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there is a light that never goes out.

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Be strong, Jimin.

Jimin opens his eyes, and the words are gone like a wisp of air.

For a summer night, the air is rather cool, and Jimin shivers in his sleeveless top. The car whose hood he’s commandeered has been off too long for it to provide any lingering warmth. Jimin takes one last drag of his cigarette before tossing it to the ground. He unwinds his arms from around his bent knees so he can lie back on the windshield, legs spread out before him. One booted foot dangles off the side of the car.

The city’s lights turn the sky murkier than it should be. Jimin counts the stars he can see - one, two, three… - and doesn’t like that he can count them at all. They should be innumerable. At least the moon is full and bright. He stretches, body sore and tired. The hill they’ve parked on makes the sky seem deceivingly close.

When he was sitting up, Jimin could the city stretched out before him - crowded, bustling. But he didn’t really want to look at the city. He stretches an arm out before him, reaching for the moon. He encases it between his thumb and forefinger. Like this, it looks so small. It’s his to catch.

He closes his eyes, letting the cold wash over his skin. Then he sits up and hops off the car, carefully so as not to wake the guy sleeping in the backseat. He reaches in through the open passenger window to grab his jacket, sparing a cursory glance toward the car’s owner. He hadn’t bothered dressing after they fucked, so he’s sprawled in the backseat nearly naked. Jimin snorts. He shrugs on his jacket, lights another cigarette, and starts to walk.

It isn’t late, and the city is still very much alive. His parents are probably still awake, so Jimin doesn’t head home. He just walks. No one on the busy streets spares him a second glance, save an admiring look here or there. He’d looked good before he set out that evening, but now he looks a little debauched. Hair mussed, makeup smudged, tank top half-untucked. He can’t be bothered to fix anything.

He stops in a shop full of knickknacks and walks out with a pretty bracelet, then he keeps going. The next window to catch his interest attracts him for the old-fashioned turntable sitting in the display. It’s pretty. Jimin steps inside the music store and finds it crowded and a little unorganized, shelves overflowing with CDs and stacks of old records. Jimin wonders how a place like this manages to get by. No one buys music like this anymore.

Jaehyuk had always loved collecting music. He had shelves of old cassettes and records, a turntable he’d bought at a thrift store, everything organized meticulously. When they were young, Jimin had borrowed a CD off his shelf and put it back in the wrong spot. Jaehyuk hadn’t talked to him all day.

Jimin must stand there, staring at the shop, longer than he realizes because a gruff voice asks, “Can I help you?”

Jimin starts, turning toward the voice to find a guy standing behind the counter. He’s pretty in a soft, sleepy way, but the t-shirt he’s wearing shows off arms covered in tattoos. It’s one of those nights where it’s hard to speak, hard to shift the muscles of his face into any sort of expression. Still, Jimin tries, uncomfortable with the time it takes his mouth to move. “Got any music for when you feel like shit?”

He doesn’t miss the appreciative way the guy looks him over before his face settles into a mask of indifference. “Bad night?”

Jimin laughs humorlessly. “Every night’s a bad night.”

The guy’s mouth curves up wryly. “I’ve got a rec for that.”

He steps out from behind the counter. He’s about Jimin’s height, lankier but built differently, broader shoulders and bigger hands. There are tattoos on his hands, too, across the backs and on his knuckles.

“Before you ask, yes, they hurt,” the guy intones.

Jimin flushes, flustered at being caught staring. He wonders how many times the guy’s been asked. “I know. I’ve got a few.”

“Oh, yeah?” He peers at him, clearly trying to catch a glimpse.

“In places you can’t see,” Jimin says coyly, and the guy scoffs.

“Right,” he mutters, heading down the aisles to boxes of records in the back. After a moment’s hesitation, Jimin follows. “You have a turntable?”

Jimin shakes his head. The guy sifts deftly through the rows of records with long fingers, stopping when he finds the right one. He slips it out.

“Ah, I dunno if we have a CD version.” He hands it to Jimin. “Lemme check.”

Jimin stares at the album art, tracing over the bubble letters with his fingers. Belatedly, he calls, “I don’t have a CD player, either.”

He glances up to find the guy staring at him incredulously. “No CD player?”’

“It’s 2018,” Jimin defends, and the guy looks at him like he just insulted his mother.

“What are you doing in a music store then?”

Jimin stuffs his free hand in his pocket, staring down at his feet. Heat floods up his neck. “I dunno, I just - ” He shrugs helplessly. “I dunno.”

He hears the guy sigh. When he speaks again, it sounds closer, and Jimin looks up to find him standing before him. “Well, do you want to get something to play music on?”

“A turntable,” Jimin blurts, pointing at the one in the display. “That’s why I walked in. It’s pretty.”

The guy stares at him for a moment, something about his gaze painfully discerning. Then he nods, leading Jimin over to a tall shelf with boxed turntables, stereos, and other equipment. He pulls out one large box and says, “This is the one in the window. It’s pricy.”

Jimin peers at the tag. He has enough, but he shouldn’t waste it. He finds himself nodding anyway. “I’ll take it. And this.” He gestures to the record still clutched against his chest.

“You sure?” he asks, a little surprised. His eyebrows disappear into his blond fringe. Jimin nods again, more firmly this time.

He follows him over to the counter and waits while he rings him up, tattooed fingers tapping buttons quickly. He bags Jimin’s purchases and says, “Careful with the record. Make sure it doesn’t get scratched.”

“Got it.”

“Hope you like it,” he says, and it’s earnest, a little more interested than the rest of his conversation. Jimin blinks; it’s his recommendation, after all. “It’s good for bad nights.”

“Thanks.” Jimin grabs the bag and moves toward the door. He’s pushed it halfway open, heard the bell chime, when he glances back. “Hey, what’s your name?”

The guy glances up. Waits half a breath. Then, “Yoongi.”

“Jimin,” he offers before tucking his jacket more securely around him and heading back out into the cold.

 

 

Jimin listens to the record lying on the floor of his bedroom.

His desk has too much clutter to fit a turntable, so he sets it up on the floor instead. It’s easy to set up, but he takes a bit too long figuring out how to play the record itself. He’s tired. He ends up accidentally playing smack in the middle of a few songs before he realizes he has to place the needle at the beginning of the groove. When the soft piano notes of the first song begin, Jimin flicks his lights off and lies down.

The open window lets in a bit of moonlight, but mostly it’s dark. Jimin closes his eyes, clasps his hands over his chest, and listens. He listens from start to finish, until the music ends and the only sound left is the rumble of the turntable as it spins the record over and over silently. Jimin’s chest is heavy. Something inside him hurts, the pain almost a relief after the hollow emptiness that he’s grown accustomed to.

He draws in a shuddering breath. The music is raw. He doesn’t know how else to describe it. It’s raw, and its jagged edges scrape over Jimin’s tender flesh, leaving him hurting in a way he didn’t realize he needed.

He opens his eyes, blinking against the darkness, and sits up to start the record again.

 

 

“Where are you going?” Jimin’s mother asks. She stands at the kitchen counter sorting mail.

Jimin stops at the door, listening to the dull thud of envelopes hitting the counter. He clutches the record’s cover to his chest. “Just out.”

She slaps the next one down. Jimin winces. “Can’t even stay home for a day, can you?”

“I didn’t go out yesterday.”

She continues as if he hadn’t spoken. “Not as if you’re any use when you are home, so what do I care? Fuck around all you want out there.”

“I was just going to a store.”

“Spend all the damn money you’re barely even making.”

Jimin sighs. He tugs the door open, grabbing his jacket off the hook. “Bye, Mom.”

She doesn’t answer. He shrugs on his jacket and leaves, resisting the childish urge to let the door slam shut behind him. He eases it closed instead. As soon as he’s out of the building, he lights a cigarette.

It isn’t as cold as it was a few nights ago, but the jacket is more habit than necessity. An emotional comfort rather than a physical one. Jimin hops on a bus that deposits him somewhere in Yongsan, after which he walks the rest of the way to his destination.

The music store is considerably busier than the last time Jimin came, considering it’s the middle of the day rather than just before closing. Jimin slips through the front door unnoticed, slinking over to the side so he can subtly search the store for Yoongi. He catches sight of him by the cassettes, deep in conversation with a few customers.

Jimin watches him talk for a long, uncomfortable moment. He feels abruptly foolish for coming back. Spinning on his heel, he intends on walking right back out but comes to a halt when he realizes someone’s standing before him.

“Hi, can I help with you anything?”

Jimin glances up to meet a friendly, dimpled smile. Its owner is tall and handsome in a way that makes Jimin’s breath catch. “Oh, um.” He considers, then holds out the empty album cover. “Someone who worked here recommended this last time I was here. I really liked it. I wanted to find something similar, or something else by the artist maybe?”

The guy’s smile deepens, crinkling his eyes. “Yoongi hyung mentioned you. Said he got a customer with no CD player and no turntable looking for music.”

Jimin rubs the back of his neck, flustered. “I just listen on my phone.”

“I’m teasing,” he says easily. “I’m Namjoon, by the way. And unfortunately, that’s the only copy of the only album we have by that artist.”

“Oh.” Jimin blinks, frowning at the cover. “Guess I got lucky, then.”

“You did,” he agrees. “That’s a great album. But maybe I can find you something like it.”

“There’s nothing like it,” a low voice drawls. Yoongi appears at Namjoon’s shoulder. He’s in the middle of unwrapping a small lollipop. “That one’s top tier. Next level.”

Namjoon rolls his eyes in the manner of someone who has to hear the same thing too often. “Yoongi hyung’s a snob.”

Yoongi sticks his lollipop in his mouth and nods at the album cover. “So you liked it, then?” The candy clacks against his teeth when he speaks.

“Yeah. It was - ” Jimin searches for the right word. “Haunting,” he decides.

“That’s one way to put it.”

Something about Yoongi makes Jimin feel restless. He turns to Namjoon to ask, “Namjoon-ssi, you said you could show me something similar?”

“Lemme dig some stuff up.” Namjoon heads toward the records in the back of the shop, and Jimin follows. He’s a little surprised to realize Yoongi tags along after them. Namjoon sifts through a row of records and pulls one out.

“You’re kidding,” Yoongi says immediately, snatching it from his hands. “This doesn’t even have a tenth of the depth - ”

“It’s literally the same genre, it’s just slightly less fucking sad - ”

“And that detracts from the entire appeal.”

“Not everything has to be fucking sad, Yoongi hyung.”

Jimin takes the record decidedly from Yoongi. “Lemme try it.” Namjoon looks pleased. Maybe a little triumphant.

Yoongi makes a nose of irritation and nudges Namjoon aside to start searching instead. “Here we go,” he says, tugging out another record.

“How does that count as even remotely similar ? It’s acid rock.”

“Which comes from blues, just like - ”

“All rock comes from blues - ”

“I’ll take that one, too,” Jimin interrupts.

Namjoon, at least, looks embarrassed. “Sorry, we can get kind of intense.”

“Intense,” Yoongi scoffs, like it’s an insult.

“Right.” Jimin draws out the word, dubious quirk to his lips. “I don’t know all that much about music like this. Rock or whatever.”

Yoongi’s eye twitches. Namjoon, kindly, maintains a neutral expression. “What do you usually listen to?”

“R&b, hip-hop, mostly.”

“The album you bought last time,” Namjoon offers, “That’s post-punk.”

“Oh,” Jimin muses. “And this one’s acid rock, and this one’s post-punk, too?”

“You got it. Hey,” Namjoon starts, turning to Yoongi. “We should tell him about the show.”

Yoongi tilts his head, considering, before he furrows his brow. “We could.”

“What show?” Jimin says, wondering if they’ve forgotten he’s right there.

“Friday night at a club in Hongdae. Bunch of local bands are playing.” Namjoon digs around in his pocket and comes out with a rumpled flyer.

Jimin takes it, peering at the time and location. Jimin’s no stranger to clubs, but ones like this aren’t his scene.

“You should come,” Namjoon urges. Jimin’s gaze flickers from him to Yoongi. He narrows his eyes, waiting.

“Come,” Yoongi finally says.

Jimin pockets the flyer. “I’ll think about it.”

 

 

On nights like these, Jimin wants so desperately not to be Park Jimin that he thinks about clawing his skin off.

The loneliness sits under his skin, heavy like a weight. It wears away at his bones until he’s hollow enough that it echoes inside him, touching every corner of his being. Sometimes he wonders if it’ll wear him down until there’s nothing left; sometimes he feels like it already has. Like the tree falling in the empty forest, he might not exist if no one can hear him.

He pulls at his hair and tries not to claw his skin off. The doubt starts to swarm like a parasite, makes it hard to sit still, so he takes three shots of vodka and runs in circles around a park in the middle of the city. He runs with his arms outstretched, the warm summer air pushing against his body, until the alcohol hits and he stumbles onto the grass and bruises his knees.

The restless itch doesn’t abate. A cop stops by the park fence and tells him the park’s closed, keep moving, so he shoves his hands in his pockets and keeps moving. He doesn’t exist if no one loves him. Somehow he knows this. The only solution, then, is to find someone who will pretend.

He’s reaching into his pocket to make sure he has his ID for a bar when he finds the rumpled concert flyer. He’d forgotten about it. Now he stares at it, and it takes him a moment to realize it’s tonight. It’s already started, but he isn’t too late. He pockets it again and heads for the bus stop.

He can hear the raucous rock music from the sidewalk when he gets there, and it makes him wince. Still, he hands his ID to the bouncer, pays the small cover charge, and enters. Jimin doesn’t really go to clubs like this one; it’s dim and grungy, faded posters on the walls, and no one’s dancing. They’re standing on the floor watching the band play, swaying back and forth like zombies with cups of cheap beer in their hands. He garners some stares when he enters. They can probably tell he doesn’t belong.

He glances around briefly for a familiar face and doesn’t see Yoongi or Namjoon. Standing just inside the entrance, he listens to the shitty band with their nearly incoherent singer play and wonders what the fuck he’s doing. He wanted to get laid, not fuck around with music that’s already giving him a headache.

“Didn’t think you’d come.”

The voice by his ear startles him. He spins around, and Yoongi’s standing there in an oversized jacket and heavy boots. He doesn’t look particularly interested or disinterested at Jimin’s presence. Jimin shrugs. “Thought I’d check it out.”

“What do you think?” Yoongi nods toward the tiny stage, where the singer’s now on his knees as he shouts something into the mic.

“Uh - ” Jimin starts, unsure if he should just admit it’s horrible or try to be nice about it.

Yoongi must see the conflict play over his face because he just laughs, flashing his gums. “I know, they suck.”

“Oh, thank god,” Jimin groans. “I was starting to think maybe your taste wasn’t as good as I thought.”

The corner of his mouth curves up. “My taste is the best.” Yoongi jerks his head toward the bar at the back of the club. “Come on.”

He sets off without waiting to see if Jimin will follow. Jimin catches up and finds Namjoon sitting at the bar locked in a heated discussion with the guy sitting next to him, who has dark hair and maybe the prettiest eyes Jimin’s ever seen. He’s almost absurdly handsome, and Jimin finds himself licking his lips when the stranger glances over at their approach.

Namjoon looks up and beams, his conversation forgotten. “You came! Jimin, right?”

Jimin nods, forcing a smile that grows more natural as he holds it.

“This is Jungkook,” Namjoon says, gesturing to the guy sitting next to him. “His band’s up later tonight.”

“You’re in a band?” Jimin says, impressed, leaning forward to make himself heard.

Jungkook stares at him, messy fringe falling into his eyes, his head slightly tilted. “Yeah,” he finally says. “I sing.”

“That’s so cool.” Jimin means it - he isn’t just saying it to be flirty. There had been a small time in his life when he’d wanted to sing, too, but that had faded like all his other dreams. “I always wanted to be a singer.”

“You sing?” Yoongi asks, leaning against the bar to call for an Irish Bomb.

“Not anymore.”

“You want a drink, Jimin?” Namjoon offers. “I’ll order you something.”

Jimin’s never one to pass up free alcohol, so he nods. “Pick something for me,” he says. “Thank you, Namjoon-ssi.”

“You don’t have to be formal. How old are you?”

“23.”

“I’m your hyung, then.”

“Namjoon hyung,” Jimin amends, liking the way it makes Namjoon smile, his dimples showing. He isn’t sure if Namjoon’s flirting or just being nice.

Namjoon orders him something weaker than he would have ordered himself, but he supposes that’s what he gets for letting someone else choose. In the meantime, Yoongi’s drink arrives, and Jimin watches him down it without pausing for breath. When he sets his empty glass down decidedly, he raises an eyebrow at Jimin, who’s still staring.

“Impressive,” Jimin says, and Yoongi smirks.

“So, Jimin,” Namjoon interrupts. “We’ve been dying to know. Which record did you like more?”

Jungkook groans, rolling his eyes. “They’ve really been dying to know.”

Jimin frowns, furrowing his brow, then, “Oh, you mean between the two you recommended?”

“Yeah,” Namjoon says. “His suggestion or mine?”

“It was obviously mine,” Yoongi says. “There’s no competition.”

“Honestly,” Jimin starts, and all of their gazes snap to him. “I didn’t like either of them.”

That starts up another heated discussion, of which Jimin laughingly takes part, even though he barely knows what he’s talking about. It’s funny how offended they get when he elaborates on exactly how much he disliked both of the albums.

The shitty band is eventually replaced by a much better one, and Jimin begins to enjoy the music. He doesn’t even have to try to flirt with Jungkook and Namjoon - it comes so naturally, given how much he likes their company. The flirting just makes Namjoon flustered, but Jungkook’s mostly impervious to it, so Jimin eases up after a while. He doesn’t bother with Yoongi. Somehow he knows Yoongi’s probably even harder to crack than Jungkook.

Eventually Jungkook leaves them to prepare, and his band shows up on stage a little later. They’re good, the best ones yet, though Jimin might be a little biased. Jungkook’s voice is absolutely beautiful. Their music is haunting in a way that isn’t heavy, not like the record Yoongi had given Jimin the first time they met, but still makes his heart stir. He watches their three songs with wide eyes.

“They’re so good,” Jimin exclaims when there’s quiet between songs.

“That’s Jungkook’s boyfriend,” Yoongi says, nodding toward the guitarist, who’s saying something into the mic.

Jimin blinks. He has a pretty face, and he looks older. He shoots Yoongi a sideways glance and wonders if he’s only telling him because he’d picked up on the flirting. Jimin shrugs. “Cool.”

Yoongi shoots him a look.

“I’ve listened to the album you first gave me like a thousand times,” Jimin says. “I’m going to drive myself up a wall if I don’t find something like it again.”

“I have another album by the artist, one of their earlier ones.”

Jimin’s eyes widen. “Can I borrow it?”

Yoongi shakes his head immediately. “It was hard as fuck to get my hands on. I’m never letting it out of my sight.”

Jimin wilts in disappointment.

“You can come over and listen to it, if you want.”

Jimin straightens, fixing his eyes on Yoongi curiously. Maybe he isn’t as hard to crack as he’d thought. He slips his phone out of his pocket. “Give me your number.”

Yoongi stares at him for a full moment, something crackling in the air between them, before he takes his phone and keys it in.

“I’ll text you about it,” Jimin says, and Yoongi nods.

Jimin stays for a few more bands before he takes his leave. On the way home, the energy that had filled him from being surrounded by so much life fades with every block he grows closer to home. When he gets off the bus, he’s empty again.

That’s the problem with pretending you’re real - after a while, you always remember that you aren’t.  

 

 

Jimin wraps a brace around his ankle with fingers deft from practice. He doesn’t wear it often, though he probably should, but today he’s hurting too much to avoid it. In the beginning, he’d hated putting it on; the various straps were confusing and time-consuming. Mostly, he just hated that he needed to wear it all, that he had stress injuries from years of doing something he didn’t even like. Jaehyuk had always tried to stand up to their parents, but they never listened. He doesn’t even like ballet. He wants to sing . But Jimin was talented enough for them to brag, so that’s all they saw.

Ironically, when he finally quit, it’d been because of Jaehyuk after all. Just not in the way they’d expected.

He shimmies into his work uniform and stops by his parents’ room to let his mother know he’s leaving.

“Eomma?” he calls, hovering in the doorway.

The lights are off, the curtains drawn. She’s sitting in the chair by the dark window with a picture frame in her hand. Jimin doesn’t have to look to know whose photo it is.

“Eomma, I’m going to work.”

She doesn’t react. He isn’t sure if she even hears him. With a sigh, Jimin draws her curtains and cracks the windows to let in some fresh air. Then he kisses the top of her head and leaves the room. His father’s at the kitchen table poring over a stack of papers when Jimin passes through. He glances up, takes in Jimin’s uniform, and scoffs. Then he looks back down and ignores Jimin until he leaves.

They don’t like that Jimin works in a boutique helping women with too much money find designer bags all day. He doesn’t like it, either. His customers can be cruel. But he doesn’t have many options with just a high school education, and a shitty one at that.

So he sucks it up and heads to work, where he has to plaster a smile onto his face and pretend to be overly polite for the next six hours.

He spends his break smoking behind the building, where Jaebum who works at the menswear store down the street asks if he wants to go to a party tonight. Jimin almost considers saying yes; going home when his mother’s like this doesn’t sound appealing. But then he realizes -

“I might be busy tonight. I’ll let you know.”

As soon as Jaebum heads back to work, Jimin pulls his phone out of his pocket. Yoongi had saved his number as Yoongi hyung , even though Jimin hadn’t called him that yet. It’s been a few weeks since the concert. Jimin wonders if Yoongi even remembers he gave him his number. He hadn’t texted mostly because he hadn’t quite figured out what Yoongi’s intentions were.

But maybe it’s about time to find out. He shoots Yoongi a text, then heads back to work.

hey, it’s jimin. you busy tonight?

 

 

Jimin can’t tell if Yoongi wants to fuck, or if he really just wants to be friends. He hadn’t flirted, but something about the way he looked at Jimin - it felt like something heavy, wanting. And Jimin wasn’t imagining it, he knows he wasn’t. Still, their conversations have been nothing but platonic so far. He ends up dressing somewhere in between friend and potential fuck - jeans with too many holes, a nice yellow sweater.

Standing outside of Yoongi’s apartment door, Jimin takes a moment to wonder what he’s hoping for. Does he want Yoongi to fuck him, or does he want a friend? Yoongi’s hot, that’s for sure, so Jimin wouldn’t be opposed to the former. He usually isn’t. But friendship - well, Jimin hasn’t had a friend in a long time.

He isn’t sure he wants one.

He knocks. Yoongi takes a minute to get the door, and when he opens it, Jimin feels a little foolish. He looks like he just woke up, his hair mussed, wearing sweats and an overly large t-shirt. At the sight of Jimin, he runs a hand through his hair to settle it but only succeeds in ruining it further.

“Sorry,” he says. “Fell asleep watching TV.”

Jimin shrugs it off, stepping in when Yoongi gestures for him to follow. He slips his shoes off by the door and pads after Yoongi. He has a studio, and it isn’t neat, but it isn’t awfully messy either. The kitchenette is nice and clean; Jimin wonders if he even uses it. The bed set up across from the TV is unmade; Jimin spies a few gaming systems. Next to his TV stands a large wooden shelf covered with music. It reminds Jimin of Jaehyuk’s.

“I was about to make some coffee, you want a cup?”

Yoongi’s offering coffee, and he’s wearing his pajamas. So it wasn’t an invitation for sex after all.

Jimin finds himself feeling relieved.

“Sure,” he says, and follows Yoongi into the kitchenette. There’s barely enough room for the both of them to stand, so he backs up and watches Yoongi bustle around. He grinds the beans and uses a French press to brew two cups. For all the class of his coffee-making process, the two mugs he pours the coffee into are mismatched and chipped.

Jimin’s endeared.

“This is really good,” Jimin gushes at the first sip.

“Yeah, these beans are amazing.” Yoongi points at the jar sitting on his counter. “I get them at a shop a few blocks from here. They’re pricey, but they’re worth it. I’ll show you the bag later.”

“I don’t have a grinder,” Jimin admits. “I just have one of those machines with the pods.”

As expected, Yoongi scoffs. “Only listen to music on your phone, brew coffee from pods, what else do I need to know about you?”

Jimin laughs into his mug. “You’re just pretentious.”

“Pretentious! Me?”

Jimin holds out his hand to tick off the list, finger-by-finger. “You work at a record store, you have a turntable, you go to local shows, you argue about rock genres, you have a French press - ”

“All right, I get it.”

“ - and you were watching Reservoir Dogs ,” Jimin finishes. The TV’s paused on the end of the movie.

“Hey, what’s that got to do with it?”

“Nothing, it’s just typical.”

Yoongi grumbles, but Jimin can tell he isn’t really offended. “Well, you’re pretty typical yourself.”

Jimin snorts. “I already know that.”

Yoongi eyes him over his mug before padding out of the kitchen and toward his bedroom-cum-living room. Jimin follows, still smiling. “I dunno if you even deserve to listen to the record now,” Yoongi says seriously. “Maybe you won’t even appreciate it.”

Jimin giggles. Yoongi throws him a look over his shoulder that’s more amused than annoyed and settles down on the floor in front of his turntable, which sits on a small stool. “I loved the first one you gave me, give me some credit.”

“But you didn’t like the second. Or Namjoon’s.”

Jimin plops down next to him cross-legged, nursing the coffee mug between his sweater-covered hands. Jimin’s more of an iced coffee guy, especially during the summer, but something about the warmth feels comforting. “I thought you didn’t like Namjoon hyung’s recommendation either.”

“Nah, it’s amazing.” Yoongi removes a record carefully from its sleeve where it had been sitting by the stool. “Don’t tell him I said that.”

“My lips are sealed.”

“I’m teasing, by the way. You don’t have to like it.” Yoongi says after a quiet moment where he sets the record up. “You said you’re into hip-hop, right? About a third of that shelf is hip-hop.”

Jimin peers over curiously. “Really? Thought you were a rock-and-roll only kinda guy.”

Yoongi shakes his head. “I listen to pretty much anything, actually.”

“You should show me some of your favorites,” Jimin says, crawling over the shelf to examine its contents more carefully.

“After you listen to this one, you won’t want to listen to anything else for days,” Yoongi warns. “I’ll show you my favorites next time.”

Next time. Jimin stares at a row of CDs but doesn’t see any of them. He glances back, and Yoongi’s expression hasn’t changed in the slightest. Like it was so easy for him to offer. Jimin looks back at the shelf. Next time. He runs his fingers along a row CDs, then shifts through a box of classical records. Most of the titles he recognizes from his years of ballet.

“I’ve listened to this a thousand times,” he says, pulling out Tchaikovsky’s Alice In Wonderland .

“You like classical, too?”

Jimin shrugs. After all those years, he kind of hates it. “I used to dance ballet.”

“No way.” Yoongi sounds genuinely impressed. Jimin doesn’t miss the way Yoongi’s eyes flicker down his body and away. “You don’t anymore?”

He scoots back to Yoongi’s side. “I was only doing it because my parents made me.”

Yoongi tilts his head, eyebrow raised. “Your parents wanted you to be a ballet dancer?”

He understands the confusion. It isn’t exactly the premier choice of activity for a boy. “I started when I was little because I thought it was pretty and they let me. Then I realized it wasn’t as much fun as I thought. But I was good at it, so they didn’t let me quit. They liked that I was good at something.”

The way Yoongi looks at him feels painfully discerning, so Jimin looks away.

“Are we gonna listen?” he prods, nodding at the turntable.

“Prepare yourself,” Yoongi warns again, then starts the record.

The record is a little under an hour long. Despite being by the same artist, it’s unbelievably different than the first. It’s haunting in a different way, a new way, a way that makes Jimin itch down to his very bones. They’re silent for the full hour. At some point, Yoongi gets up to make them more coffee.

Mostly they just sit there, listening. Jimin shifts to lean against the foot of Yoongi’s bed. He closes his eyes for most of it. It’s a strange experience, listening to an album that invokes so much feeling with someone who’s nearly a stranger. It feels oddly intimate.

When it’s over, Jimin opens his eyes. His lashes are wet. Yoongi’s staring at him.

“Yeah,” he says, his voice hoarse from the quiet, in answer to the silent question in Yoongi’s gaze. “That was something.”

He doesn’t stay long after that.

 

 

Jaehyuk had been good at a lot of things.

He was the sort of person who made everyone else jealous. Talented soccer player, top of his class, guitar player, handsome and charming and genuinely good of heart. Jimin had the misfortune - or luck, depending on how you looked at it - of attending all the same schools as him just a few years after he left them. Everywhere Jimin went, it was always wait, you’re Jaehyuk’s dongsaeng? Park Jaehyuk?

Jimin doesn’t fault them for their surprise. He knows the dissonance they saw when they thought of Park Jaehyuk and then looked at his little brother, who was always too shy to say more than a few words to all those strangers who knew his hyung.

Jaehyuk could have separated himself from his clingy little brother easily, but he never did. For some reason still unfathomable to Jimin, Jaehyuk was always proud of him. He would invite him to hang out with his friends, introduce him so happily. Guys, this is my little brother. His name’s Jimin.

And his friends would always smile and nod. We’ve heard all about you, Jimin . It never sounded like an insult.

Following in the footsteps of someone like Jaehyuk made jealousy inevitable, and Jimin was jealous. But mostly he didn’t mind. Mostly, he liked hovering behind his brother like a shadow, catching the light he gave off so generously.

Towards the end, Jaehyuk had told him to be strong. It was the last thing he ever asked Jimin to do, and Jimin failed. Jaehyuk wouldn’t be proud if he saw Jimin now. He’d be disappointed. I believed in you , he’d say. What have you become ?

 

 

A few weeks after their listening session, Yoongi texts Jimin to invite him to a game night.

joon and jungkook will be there, and a few other friends , he adds. Then, a moment later like an afterthought, and jungkook’s bf . Jimin snorts. At some point he’ll have to let Yoongi know he doesn’t actually need to worry about him going after Jungkook.

A night of forced social interaction over board games with a bunch of people he barely knows sounds excruciating. Jimin doesn’t want friends. But he thinks about it. Overthinks. Tells Yoongi he might be working that night, he doesn’t know yet, just to give himself some leeway in case he says no. Or in case he says yes.

There’s little opportunity to make friends at work, and Jimin doesn’t hang around clubs and bars looking for friendship. His old high school friends are who-knows-where. The thing about grieving is that people are willing to allow your pain just for a little while. For a little while, they’ll excuse everything. Your absences, your distance, your behavior. But eventually, they expect you to move on. And when you don’t, they do it instead.

Maybe he should be welcoming the unexpected opportunity to find friendship again after so many years, a balm to his loneliness. But Jimin’s grown used to being alone. And a part of him understands that he’s still grieving too hard to keep anyone around.

So he keeps thinking. Then, on the night of the get-together, he finds himself standing in front of Yoongi’s door with a pack of beer. He can hear them inside, Yoongi and his friends. He can hear them laughing. It takes a lot of willpower to raise his hand and knock.

Yoongi opens the door mid-laughter. He’s bright; Jimin squints. “You came,” he says, and he sounds happy. “I didn’t know if you would.”

Jimin clears his throat, suddenly finding it hard to speak. “Yeah, I didn’t have work.” He holds the beer between them like a barrier. “Uh, I brought this.”

“Thanks,” Yoongi says, but he doesn’t move to take it. “We actually don’t really do alcohol at game nights.”

So he’s gonna have to suffer through social interaction and board games, and now there’s no alcohol to boot. Jimin tries not to grimace. “Why?” he asks, following Yoongi in when he beckons.

“Joon, tell him why there’s no alcohol,” Yoongi hollers into the apartment, pointing Jimin toward the kitchen counter, where there’s a line of food. Jimin slips his shoes off and pads over, taking a plate and filling it. They’re all gathered around Yoongi’s bed and TV, having shifted things around to make room. Aside from Jungkook, Namjoon, and Jungkook’s boyfriend, Jimin counts three other people.

“You came!” Namjoon says excitedly, then, “Our culture uses alcohol as a crutch and normalizes unhealthy behaviors even though alcohol is a drug just like any other. People act like you can’t have fun without alcohol involved, so we’re gonna have fun with no alcohol involved.” He pauses to breathe, looking a little embarrassed. “Sorry.”

“There you have it,” Yoongi says, settling down beside Namjoon and a girl with her long hair in braided pigtails. Jimin can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic, or if he feels the same way as Namjoon.

Jimin sits on the floor with his plate in his lap. He can’t help the annoyance that’s already simmering in his belly. He knows it’s nothing personal, but somehow he feels called out anyway.

“Everyone, this is Jimin,” Yoongi introduces. “Jimin, this is Hyuk - ” Jungkook’s boyfriend waves a hand in greeting. “ -  Hara and Hyojin - ” Hara’s the one with the pretty braids, and Hyojin has a box of tissues by her side and a red nose. “ - and Seokjin.” The guy sitting by the TV shuffling a deck of cards.

“Nice to meet you,” Jimin says, and they nod in return. He gestures to the cake he’s taken a bite of and says, “This is really good. Did someone make it?”

“Yoongi did,” says Jungkook’s boyfriend Hyuk. Jimin finds himself staring at him and Jungkook for a moment, at Hyuk’s arms around Jungkook’s waist and the way Jungkook glances back at him when he speaks, stars in his eyes. At the club, Jungkook had seemed so mature and assured, but with Hyuk he looks younger, content and smiling. Jimin’s a little jealous - not of either of them specifically, but rather of the easy comfort between them. He thinks it would be nice to be held.

“Yoongi hyung loves cooking,” Jungkook chimes in.

Jimin turns his gaze to Yoongi, who shrugs it off. Jimin’s no good at cooking. His mother doesn’t really cook anymore, and his father’s generally useless around the house. “That’s cool,” Jimin finally says.

“We’re gonna play Mafia,” Hyojin tells him. “Do you know how to play?”

He shakes his head. They launch into an explanation that quickly devolves into everyone talking over each other and arguing about the rules. By the time they start playing, Jimin still doesn’t know what to do, but he’s smiling. He’s the mafia in the first round, and Jimin’s terrible at games but he’s good at acting innocent. They hardly suspect him until it’s too late; by then he’s been picking them off, one-by-one. When they figure out it’s him, they’re outraged, and he falls on the floor laughing too hard.

“Unbelievable!” Namjoon exclaims. “You had us fooled.”

“He had you fooled the most,” Yoongi snarks, and it’s true. Namjoon falls prey to the cute act too easily. “I thought it was Jimin from the start, but none of you listened.”

“Look at his face,” Hara whines. “He’s too cute to be a killer.”

They start another round in which Jimin dies one turn in. He figures it’s revenge. He’s enjoying himself, so the night passes quickly. They play more games, most of which devolve into arguments, too, until eventually they sprawl around and just talk. Jimin finds his focus drawn again and again to Yoongi. If he’s being honest with himself, Yoongi’s the real reason he’s here tonight.

Jimin watches him top off Jungkook’s glass of juice when he isn’t looking so that it’s full the next time Jungkook reaches for it. He watches him pay extra attention to Hyojin, who’s quiet today because she’s a little sick. Yoongi gives his attention covertly, like it’s a secret. Jimin’s good at commanding attention, but not from Yoongi. Yoongi’s attention is as sparing as it is covert.

Jimin surprises himself at the intensity with which he longs for it.

Most of the people there have places to be the next day, so they wrap it up before long. Everyone’s adamant that Jimin join their next gathering, too. “You’re so fun,” Hara says, and Jimin smiles.

“Come over so we can listen to some records,” Yoongi offers.

On the bus ride home, Jimin remembers why he doesn’t have friends. It was a nice night. That makes the loneliness hit even harder. It sinks down on him like a weight. His shoulders slump on the walk to his building. The skin of his face feels like it’s sagging.

 

 

Jaehyuk had been the only one who ever loved him.

It makes sense that if Jaehyuk doesn’t exist anymore, Jimin doesn’t either.

 

 

The worst kind of bad day is the one that happens because of nothing.

It’s the kind of bad day where Jimin just wakes up feeling wrong. There are no ugly words from his parents to jumpstart it, no cruel customers, no sudden realizations. Just the deep, undeniable wrongness.

These are the worst kind of days because they make Jimin feel guilty, like he has no reason to feel bad. Like he should be fine, but he isn’t. Like he’s a child throwing a tantrum over nothing.

It’s a bad day, and Jimin’s drunk, and he’s laughing.

He’s laughing when he dials Yoongi, as he stumbles around outside a bar trying not to bump into anyone. He doesn’t mean to call. He doesn’t know why he does it. He’s almost surprised when he hears Yoongi’s gruff hello ? down the line.

“Oh,” Jimin says. “Yoongi hyung?”

“What’s up?”

“Oh.” He swallows, laughter fading. “Sorry, I think I called by accident.”

“Hey, watch where you’re going,” someone says. So much for trying not to bump into anyone. He leans against the brick wall and starts giggling again.

“Are you drunk?” Yoongi asks.

No ,” Jimin blurts, then snorts. “Yeah. Super drunk.”

“Where are you?”

“Bar.”

“Figured,” Yoongi says dryly. “Are you alone?”

“I mean there’s a lotta people around.”

Yoongi sighs. “I mean, are you getting home alone?”

“Unfortunately,” Jimin mutters, having failed at his efforts to find someone to keep him company. “What are you doing?”

“Jimin-ah,” Yoongi says very seriously. Jimin bites his lip to keep from laughing. He likes the way Yoongi sounds. “Do you need me to pick you up?”

“Oh, no,” he blurts. “No no no. I’m totally fine. Stone cold sober.”

“Right.” Yoongi draws out the word. “Send me your location.”

“No, you’re probably busy, you don’t have to come all the way here, I’m just gonna take the bus, I always do, I’m gonna hang up now - ”

“Jimin,” Yoongi snaps, and Jimin shuts up. “It’s fine,” he says, gentler this time. “I wasn’t doing anything. I’ll come get you and we can have some coffee, yeah?”

Jimin quiets. He scuffs his shoes against the pavement. “Okay,” he mumbles.

“Send me your location,” Yoongi repeats, so Jimin does. “Can you wait right there? I can be there soon.”

“Okay.”

“Promise you’ll sit down and wait.”

“Promise.”

Yoongi hangs up, and Jimin slides to sit on the sidewalk, leaning against the building. He was feeling okay because he was drunk, and now he feels weird and woozy and guilty. Yoongi’s coming all the way here. They’re barely even friends.

Yoongi shows up in a beat-up old Mustang. One of the back windows is covered with cardboard, and the paint’s chipping. The engine sputters when he pulls up in front of the bar, garnering the stares of some patrons loitering outside. By then, Jimin’s lying on his side, the pavement warm against his head. It’s a hot night.

He’s encouraging himself to sit up when his vision fills with a pair of heavy boots.

“You gonna sleep here?” Yoongi says, teasing, before reaching a hand down.

Jimin takes it. He stumbles to his feet, swaying a little, and lets Yoongi lead him to his car. When they’re buckled in - Yoongi has to do it for him because the seatbelt in the passenger seat is finicky - Yoongi unwraps a lollipop and sticks it in his mouth. Then he starts the sputtering engine and pulls onto the road.

“How come you always have those?” Jimin mumbles. He’d had them at game night, too.

Yoongi glances at him briefly. He takes it out to talk, driving with it held between his fingers. “I’m trying to quit smoking.”

“Oh.” Jimin blinks. There’s a queasy feeling in his stomach, and he isn’t sure it’s from the alcohol. “I should do that.”

“You should,” he agrees.

Yoongi plays a cassette - the car doesn’t seem to have anything other than a cassette player - and the music fills the space between them. Jimin presses his head against the seat, trying to hold the motion sickness at bay. He squeezes his eyes shut, but that makes it worse. He tries staring at a fixed spot, and that helps only for a few moments.

“Should I pull over?” Yoongi asks. Jimin hadn’t realized he’d noticed.

“Yes,” Jimin manages to say.

Yoongi pulls over onto a relatively empty street. Jimin stumbles out of the car and into the alleyway ahead, vomiting into a corner. The force of it makes him tremble. He clutches the wall to steady himself before he vomits again, sinking to his knees as his stomach seizes up. This time, he thinks he sobs a little.

“Jimin,” Yoongi’s saying, hand on his back, and Jimin waves him off.

“I’m fine,” Jimin insists, humiliated.

“Are you - ”

“I’m fine,” he snaps, and Yoongi goes back to wait by the car.

He waits, anxious, dreading the next bout, but it seems like his body’s done for now. After a long moment, he wipes his mouth on his sleeve and returns to Yoongi on trembling legs.

“Should - should take me home,” Jimin rasps.

“Jimin.” Yoongi has the serious voice on again. “If I take you home, will anyone take care of you?”

Jimin stares at him. A part of him’s surprised that he would even ask. Most people assume there’s always someone to take care of you.

Yoongi takes his silence as an answer. “Come on. You can sleep it off at my place.”

They make it back before long, quiet on the elevator ride up to his floor. Yoongi doesn’t touch him, but Jimin notices how he hovers closer than necessary, like he’s afraid Jimin might fall. He doesn’t. He makes it into Yoongi’s apartment in one piece, struggling to get his shoes off in the entryway.

“I’ll get you some water,” Yoongi says, glancing back to where Jimin’s trying to kick off his boots. He laughs quietly. “Need some help?”

“No,” Jimin grouches, but Yoongi comes back anyway.

He crouches and unlaces Jimin’s shoes carefully, pulling them off his feet and setting them aside. Jimin stares at his head, vision swimming. He swallows harshly. Yoongi stands and beckons him further inside.

“Grab something to wear out of the drawers in the closet,” he says. “You can take my bed.”

“What about you?” Jimin asks, standing in the middle of his apartment, feeling lost. “Where will you sleep?”

“I’m nocturnal,” he deadpans, then shoos Jimin toward the closet door by his bathroom.

Jimin sifts through the drawers for sweats and a t-shirt and changes in the bathroom. He rinses out his mouth and finger-brushes his teeth with some of Yoongi’s toothpaste. When he comes out, Yoongi’s set a trash can and water by the bed.

“Try to sleep,” Yoongi says, so Jimin lies down.

Yoongi’s bed smells like him. It’s much more comfortable than Jimin’s bed, but maybe that’s just because it’s new to him. He lies there and watches Yoongi move around the kitchen.

“Why are you doing all this?” Jimin asks. “We barely even know each other.”

Yoongi turns toward him. He pauses, leaning against the counter. “We could,” he finally says. “We could be friends.”

Jimin’s eyes drift shut. “Yeah,” he says, almost a whisper. “We could.”

 

 

Jimin wakes with a splitting headache. He can smell food. He rolls over, pressing his hands to his head, trying to squeeze the pain away. It doesn’t work. His throat’s dry, so he forces himself to sit and drink from the cup of water by the bedside. Only after he’s gulped half of it does he wonder how it got so full when he drank it all before sleeping.

He peers around, but Yoongi isn’t anywhere. Rubbing his eyes, Jimin slips out of bed and pads over to the kitchen. The counter is covered with food - rice and side dishes and omelette. There are two mugs of coffee. For a long moment, Jimin stands there and stares, guilt and embarrassment a painful mix inside him.

The front door opens. Jimin hears Yoongi takes off his shoes and shuffle toward him. “Had to run an errand,” he says. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m so sorry,” Jimin blurts. “I dunno why I called you. I probably ruined your night.”

“Nah, I was gonna watch movies all night,” Yoongi says. “Was bored out of my mind, actually.”

He’s lying. He has to be. Who the hell would want to spend their night taking care of a sloppy mess like Jimin?

“Let’s eat.” Yoongi takes a stool at the counter and pats the one next to him until Jimin sits, too.

“You - you made this?”

He nods. “Honestly, I never eat breakfast. But I figured you should eat after last night.”

Jimin blinks down at the food, stunned. He doesn’t move until Yoongi nudges a bowl in his direction, then he ladles in rice with mechanical motions. He can’t remember the last time someone cooked for him. He takes a bite of omelette and a bite of rice and it’s good, it’s so fucking good. Jimin never eats breakfast either. Most days he doesn’t eat a lot of anything; it’s just too much effort.

He doesn’t realize he’s crying until Yoongi says his name.

“Hey,” he starts, but Jimin shakes his head violently, shoving another bite of food in his mouth.

“It’s fine,” he says through a mouthful. “I’m fine.”

So Jimin eats his breakfast and cries, and in lieu of spoken comfort, Yoongi piles more food into his bowl.

 

 

The kitchen sink’s faucet is dripping. The drops are slow, but so far Jimin has counted 513. If he focuses hard enough, it almost drowns out the sound of his father speaking. Jimin doesn’t need to listen to know what his father’s saying. Waste of space, ungrateful, should make you pay rent to stay here . He always says the same things.

“And there’s no hope for a future because you failed your damn entrance exams - ”

Jimin’s focus breaks at 526. He finally glances at his father, whose face is turning red. Over the years, Jimin’s learned that ignoring him makes him far angrier than responding. His father stares at him, waiting for a reaction.

Jimin had failed his entrance exams because Jaehyuk died his senior year of high school, and his mother spent the year in her bed and his father spent it drinking at the kitchen table. His father knows it wasn’t Jimin’s fault.

Then again, Jimin supposes he could be faulted for refusing to retake it.

“When are you going to do something with your life?” he asks. “Jaehyuk was going to be a doctor.”

“I’m not Jaehyuk,” Jimin says, the words heavy in his mouth.

His father scoffs. “You think I don’t know that?”

And beneath the words, Jimin can hear what he really means.

 

 

“Sing something for me,” Yoongi says, and Jimin nearly chokes on his ramen.

He coughs, sputtering, and Yoongi claps him on the back with a laugh. They’re sitting by the Han River with a spread of convenience store food around them. It isn’t late, so there are plenty of people walking around. They’d managed to find a more secluded perch to sit and watch the water, stirring gently with the breeze. It’s another hot night, but the water makes it more bearable.

“What the hell,” Jimin manages.

“What? Didn’t you say you used to sing?”

“Yeah, used to .”

“Isn’t it like riding a bike? You never forget how to do it?”

“I’m not about to sing for you in public.” Jimin shoots him an unimpressed look and steals a sip of his soda.

“Why not, chicken?” Yoongi goads.

Jimin shoves at him, fighting a smile. “Because that’s embarrassing .”

“Fine. Later, then.”

“Uh, no,” Jimin says. “What’s got you into this anyway?”

He shrugs. “I was just wondering if you were good. Jungkook’s applying to a vocal program at university, so it made me wonder.”

“He is?” Jimin finds himself smiling. He’s only hung out with the others once since the game night, but it was nice. He hasn’t gotten past the casual acquaintance with any of them, and he isn’t sure he will, but it’s okay. He really likes them. “That’s great.”

“He was never really into school, but the past few years he got it into his head that he wants to become a music teacher.” Yoongi uncaps another cup of ramen.

“I guess he can’t live off being in a band forever,” Jimin allows.

“Yeah, and he hates his retail job.”

“Who doesn’t,” Jimin mutters. “You seem really close to him. Like brothers.”

Yoongi nods. “My parents kicked me out when I was in high school. Jungkook had a falling-out with his, too, so I took care of him for a while.”

Jimin blinks at him, surprised. He’d wondered about Yoongi’s family, given that he never really talked about them. “They kicked you out?”

“It was a long time ago,” Yoongi says, brushing it off. “I think they’ll come around.”

He sets his food down, can’t find it in him to eat anymore. “Even now?”

“My mom calls me sometimes. They’re warming up.”

“But - aren’t you mad? All those years and she just calls you sometimes?” He feels the anger heating his skin on Yoongi’s behalf.

“Sure I am,” he says easily. “I used to be mad all the time. But it’s not really good for you, you know, being mad? It’s hard.”

Jimin frowns down at his feet, stretched out before him. A part of him understands; his anger with his parents has faded into numbness. He’s too exhausted to be angry. But still, if he had the energy, he thinks he’d be angry.

“I used to be a lot like you.” The statement is so blunt Jimin flounders for a second, staring at Yoongi, who’s staring back with no guilt. “Kind of self-destructive. It took a long time to recover.”

Jimin looks away. His face feels hot; he can’t tell if it’s with shame or anger. They’re friends now, yeah, but who is Yoongi to read him like that? Jimin doesn’t want to be seen. He didn’t ask for it.

“What about you?” Yoongi nudges Jimin’s knee with his own. “Who’s that?” He nods to Jimin’s wallet between them. It’s face-down, so the picture isn’t showing, but Yoongi’s seen the photo in the pocket on the other side already.

Jimin turns it over so the grinning faces of Jaehyuk and himself are visible. Jaehyuk’s wearing his graduation cap. Jimin looks so young beside him, chubby cheeks and nose too big for his face.  

“My hyung,” Jimin says. “He’s dead.”

Yoongi’s expression softens. “That must be hard.”

“Yeah.”

Yoongi waits for Jimin to offer more. When he doesn’t, Yoongi nods to himself. “I have a hyung, too,” he says, “but he doesn’t like me very much.”

“My hyung liked me a lot,” Jimin murmurs. “Though I don’t know why.”

“Are you fishing for compliments?” Yoongi says dryly.

“No!” Jimin glares at him. Then he smiles with a hint of mischief. “Though I wouldn’t mind some.”

“No way, I’m not falling for your designs.” Yoongi uncovers another cup of ramen as Jimin takes the last bite of his and slides it his way.

Jimin takes it, grinning into the cup.

“You are pretty likable though,” Yoongi says after a moment. “I guess.”

Jimin giggles. “Not falling for my designs, huh?”

“You suck.”

“You’re just easy. A softie.”

Yoongi grabs him around the neck, tugging him into his chest and ruffling his hair. Jimin can’t stop laughing. “Take that back. I am not easy.”

“Are too.” Jimin squeals when Yoongi squeezes him tighter.

“I am not, you brat.”

“You are. Min Yoongi the big softie.”

Yoongi lets him go, grumbling. “I bring you all the way here and this is how you treat me?”

“We took the bus.”

“I treat you to all this food and you’re calling me easy?”

“We split the cost, hyung.” Jimin leans his head on Yoongi’s shoulder, batting his eyes. “Anyway, it’s because you like me. You just said so.”

“Whatever.” Yoongi pushes Jimin’s head away, but Jimin can see that he’s trying not to smile.

“Hey.” Jimin straightens suddenly, remembering. He reaches into his pocket and removes a small box. “I got you this.”

Yoongi blinks, clearly caught off guard. He takes it and peeks inside. “Shit, headphones?”

“You were whining about how you broke yours. I saw these while I was out.”

“Thanks, Jiminie.” He looks up, the surprise still written all over his face. It softens, his gaze flickering over Jimin’s face. “That’s really nice of you.”

Jimin shrugs, but inside he’s preening. He likes the way Yoongi’s looking at him. He gazes back, and there’s something heavy in the air between them.

 

 

Jaehyuk had died quickly.

It had started with the headaches. Those went on for a long time; he complained of them for a year before he finally went to the doctor. Jimin often wonders if he might have lived had he gone sooner. He and Jaehyuk had laughed at their mother’s concern, the way she kept insisting he make an appointment. Leave him alone , Jimin would say, he’s just stressed .

And he had been stressed, struggling through his studies, just a year away from graduating. He hadn’t thought anything of his headaches. He’d been too busy to think about them. When he finally went through the tests, they found a lot more than just headaches. They didn’t let him leave the hospital after telling him the results - it was too far along already. He was dead within the week.

There hadn’t been much time to process that he was sick, that he was dying. He was sick, and then he was dead. Most of the last week of his life is hazy to Jimin; everything happened so fast.

But some things stand out with stark clarity in Jimin’s memory. Some are inconsequential, like the bright yellow of the flowers in Jaehyuk’s hospital room, and how the sun was oppressively bright on the last day of his funeral. Others are bigger, heavier. The sight of his father bent over Jaehyuk’s sleeping form, shoulders trembling. The sound of his mother wailing during the funeral while Jimin sat by her side with his hands balled in his lap. My son , she had said, over and over and over so the words had echoed in Jimin’s mind for days after.

Jimin remembers the year after Jaehyuk’s death even less. He knows he barely went to school because he has the failing grades to prove it. He recalls days spent kneeling by his mother’s bedside, begging her to eat. And he remembers the way his father looked at him because it’s the same way he looks at him now.

Jimin knows they wish he’d been the one who died instead. They don’t know that he wishes he had been the one, too.

 

 

Jimin’s drunk when he calls Yoongi, and that’s probably why the night turns out as badly as it does.

It’s a bad day. A horrible day, actually, one of those days that feels impossible to get through. One of those days that has Jimin very seriously considering ways to die. In the morning, his mother had accused him of spending his nights doing something illegal and asked if his only legacy was going to be ending up in jail. In the afternoon, his boss had called him a worthless shit for messing up a customer’s transaction. In the evening, his father had told him he was tired of looking at his face.

So Jimin gets drunk, like he usually does, and he can’t help that when he’s drunk all he thinks about is Yoongi.

These days, Yoongi’s all he thinks about anyway. Yoongi lingers at the back of his mind no matter how he tries to distract himself, his heart bursting with the thought of him until he can’t bear it anymore. He feels silly, 23 years old with a grade school crush that won’t get out of his head. Jimin should have known trying to have a friend wouldn’t work out for him.

He lies on the floor of his bedroom with a bottle of alcohol, listening to the record he’d bought from Yoongi’s store, and thinks about Yoongi. Yoongi who’s grumpy and blunt and funny, who cooked Jimin breakfast and unlaced his shoes for him, who texts him music recs and wants to be his friend even though Jimin’s a mess. No one wants to be around someone who can’t keep it together, but maybe Yoongi hasn’t noticed how bad Jimin is yet. Maybe he thinks he’s just a little broken, chipped but not shattered.

Eventually he gets drunk enough that he’s calling him. Yoongi picks up after a few rings that feel like forever. The sound of his low voice saying his name down the line has Jimin’s eyes drifting shut, giddy smile spreading across his face.

“Hi hyung,” Jimin says, and tries very hard not to sound like he’s drunk. “Are you busy?”

“Not really, why? Wanna come over?”

“Can we go on a drive? I’m bored.” He pitches his voice sweeter, fiddling with the hem of his shirt as he waits for Yoongi’s answer.

“Sure. I wanted to play you this new cassette I got anyway.”

“Thank you, hyung.”

It’s nearly an hour before he gets there, and by then Jimin’s finished the bottle. As soon as Yoongi texts him, he leaps up and shimmies into a pair of shorts. He passes the living room on his way out, and his father must notice the way he’s swaying.

“Are you drunk?” his father calls after him, but Jimin lets the door slam shut between them.

He makes it out of the building in one piece. Yoongi’s parked out front, windows down, fiddling with his phone. Jimin slips into the passenger seat, and Yoongi puts his phone away. He leans in and sniffs the air around Jimin, frowning.

“You were drinking,” he says, disapproving.

Jimin turns away, leaning against the car door. “Just a little.” He doesn’t care when his parents scold him, but Yoongi’s disapproval hurts.

Yoongi eyes him carefully before he starts the car. “Bad day?” he asks.

Jimin hums, closing his eyes. The wind pushing against his face feels nice as the car picks up speed, and Jimin tilts his head out of the window like a puppy. “It was fine.”

“You’re gonna love this album,” Yoongi says, pushing the cassette in. His car’s shit, but he’s souped up the sound system, so the music sounds beautiful when it starts playing.

Jimin does love it. He isn’t sure if he loves it because being around Yoongi’s making him feel floaty and positive or if he really does love it, but it doesn’t matter. The troubles of the day seem far away as music fills the car and the wind whips Jimin’s hair across his forehead. He dangles his hand out of the window, catching the air in his hand. It would be easy to never go home.

He looks over at Yoongi, admires the way the city lights cast a glow on his face, his jaw set in concentration. His hair’s flopping over his forehead, too, and it makes him look soft. He drives with an easy manner, leaning back in his seat, one hand on the wheel and the other on the gearshift.

“What?” Yoongi asks, catching him staring.

Jimin looks back out the window, watching the city whizz by. He smiles to himself. “Nothing.”

If he died right now, he thinks he’d die happy.

He finds himself singing along to one of the songs, the chorus easy to learn, and he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it until Yoongi says, “You’re amazing.”

Jimin glances over, surprised, mouth snapping shut. “What?”

“You’re a really good singer.” Yoongi sounds almost awed.

Jimin flushes, shrinking into himself. He’s drunk, so he knows he can sing much better than that. Yoongi’s praise makes him feel all fluttery and weak on the inside. “Really?”

“Yeah, shit. Jimin, you gotta do something with it. Your voice is way too good to go unheard.”

Jimin waves him off, but the words sit in his heart and make it swell until he’s afraid he might burst.

They drive around the city until the album finishes. Yoongi doesn’t bother asking if Jimin wants to go home; he drives straight to his own building, and Jimin’s grateful for it. Jimin’s careful with his steps on the way to the elevator, hoping he won’t give away how drunk he really is. So far Yoongi hasn’t seem to have noticed.

They turn on a show and sit on the floor in front of the TV after Yoongi pulls out some snacks. Jimin’s hardly paying attention. He can feel the warmth of Yoongi’s side bleeding into his, and he’s trying to think of ways he can convince Yoongi not to make him go home when the night’s over. He doesn’t want it to end.

Yoongi’s saying something, and Jimin hums to show he’s listening even though he isn’t. He rests his head on Yoongi’s shoulder and doesn’t miss the small catch in Yoongi’s breath as he speaks. Jimin doesn’t want to go home. He doesn’t want Yoongi to send him away. He turns his face into Yoongi’s neck, breathing him in, brushing his hand over Yoongi’s waist, playing with the hem of his t-shirt. He’s seen the way Yoongi looks at him sometimes. He knows he hasn’t imagined the something that’s between them.

“Jimin,” Yoongi says, and there’s a warning note in his voice. He rests his hand over Jimin’s.

Jimin nuzzles against him and peers up, eyes big. “Hyung,” he says, pitching his voice lower.

Yoongi takes his hand and firmly sets it back in his own lap. Then he scoots a few inches away. It feels like a blow to the gut; Jimin reels, trying to catch his breath. He doesn’t want to leave.

“Hyung,” he tries. “Don’t you want me?”

“Jimin.” He sounds tired, disappointed, and Jimin can hear the rejection in his voice, and it hurts. It hurts so much he feels like he’s drowning in the pain.

“I’ll be good,” Jimin promises. Wonders if he sounds as desperate as he feels. “I’ll let you do whatever you want.”

“Jimin, stop,” he snaps, and Jimin jerks away as if struck.

Amid the disappointment, Yoongi looks unsettled. Maybe disgusted, or maybe Jimin’s projecting, because reality’s bleeding through the haze and he feels disgusted at himself. He can’t breathe, humiliation stirring in his belly, his face hot with shame. He’s ruined it like he ruins everything.

“First of all,” Yoongi says, and he sounds pissed. “I’m ace.”

Jimin’s head snaps toward him. “Oh,” he says. “Shit. I - I didn’t know - ”

“ - but even if I wasn’t,” he continues, as if Jimin hadn’t spoken, “I still wouldn’t sleep with you.”

The rejection is sharp like a knife. Jimin finds himself scooting away, scrambling to his feet.

“You’re drunk ,” Yoongi says. “Jimin, look at yourself.”

He doesn’t want to. He already knows he’s a sloppy, pathetic mess, and that’s all Yoongi must see in him now. That he’s shattered, not chipped. “I’m leaving,” he says quickly, moving for the door, can’t bear to hear anymore. Can’t bear to look at Yoongi’s face.

“Jimin,” Yoongi says, exasperated, following after him. “Look at me.”

Jimin shoves his shoes on. He turns away, but Yoongi grabs his wrist and spins him back around. “Stop. I get it. Just let me leave.”

“So you can faceplant on your way back home?” He holds him still, and his expression softens. “You can’t fuck your bad day away, Jimin-ah.”

Jimin winces. He yanks his arm out of Yoongi’s grip and tugs the door open. He’s halfway down the hallway and he can feel that Yoongi’s still behind him, that he hasn’t left him yet.

“Jimin, wait,” he calls. “Let me drive you home.”

“Leave me alone.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Yoongi says, frustrated. “You can’t go home alone like this.”

“I’m fine!” he shouts. Two feet from the elevator, he stumbles, trips over his own feet. He catches himself, but Yoongi’s point is proven. Jimin sinks to the ground. His hands are trembling.

“I’m going to drive you home,” Yoongi says. His voice comes from much closer than before, and it books no argument.

Jimin sits there and waits, the despair and humiliation growing in him until they’re suffocating. Yoongi returns with his shoes and keys and presses the elevator button. He offers Jimin his hand, but Jimin ignores it, pushing himself to his feet.

The car ride home is unbearable. They’re silent. Jimin doesn’t move, his hands clenched tightly in his lap. He barely breathes.

“Jimin,” Yoongi murmurs when he pulls up to Jimin’s building. Jimin rests his hand on the handle of the car door. “I’m not mad at you, okay?”

He still sounds like it. He sounds pissed.

“Just - don’t do this to yourself.”

Jimin dares to glance at him. His jaw’s clenched tight. Jimin starts to understand that maybe the anger is just worry.

He slips out of the car and walks briskly to the building. Yoongi doesn’t drive away until he’s inside.

 

 

Jimin spends three days feeling like he’s floating.

It isn’t the good kind of floating, the giddy kind. It’s the kind of floating where you’re hovering outside your body, watching yourself move through the day’s routine like a robot. His chest feels like it’s caved in on itself, and it’s hard to shift the muscles of his face.

On the fourth day, his ankle starts hurting more than usual, and the pain brings Jimin back to his body. He almost welcomes it. He doesn’t like drifting. Four days, and Yoongi hasn’t texted him. Jimin’s sure he hates him now. The more rational part of him thinks maybe Yoongi’s just giving him space.

The irrational part of him thinks about what love might mean.

He thinks about what it might feel like, and if the way his heart wrenches at the thought of never seeing Yoongi again has anything to do with it. They aren’t strangers anymore, but Jimin doesn’t think they’ve known each other long enough for love. Then he wonders if it matters, if love has anything to do with time or if it’s just a bud that blossoms inside you when it’s ready, filling your organs until you’re suffocating.

Jimin doesn’t have friends, and he doesn’t fall in love. But lately he’s been wondering if maybe he can. If maybe it’d be alright to let himself live.

 

 

He’s stubbing his cigarette out in the ashtray on top of a trash can when the door to the music shop opens. Yoongi slips out looking tired, turning to lock the door behind him. He doesn’t notice Jimin until he steps out in front of him. The look on his face shifts from surprise to wariness.

“Hyung.” Jimin tries to get the words out in a rush, unsure if Yoongi even wants to hear them. “I’m really sorry about the way I acted. I’d really like it if - if we could keep being friends.”

Yoongi’s expression doesn’t change. “Let’s talk.” He jerks his head toward an empty bench just down the sidewalk. Jimin follows him there, crossing his arms defensively over his chest. He makes sure to leave space between them when they sit.

“I’m sorry,” he says again when Yoongi doesn’t speak, quietly unwrapping a lollipop instead. “I was - I fucked up. I was out of line. I won’t do anything like that again.”

Yoongi peers at him. “How do you know you won’t?”

Jimin blinks, caught off guard.

“Is that what you always do when you’re sad?” Yoongi murmurs. “Look for someone to fuck?”

Jimin winces and looks away. He watches the cars zoom by on the busy road ahead and feels his chest clench tight. It’s ugly when he says it like that. He wonders if it’s really as ugly as it sounds, and the longer he sits there, the more he starts to realize that it is.

“Yeah,” he finally says.

Yoongi nods. They’re quiet. Jimin’s fingers itch to reach for another cigarette, but he usually refrains from smoking around Yoongi, given that Yoongi’s trying to quit. As if he can sense it, Yoongi reaches into his pocket and hands Jimin a lollipop. The tangy flavor on his tongue settles him a little.

“Just don’t do that to your friends,” Yoongi says. “I’m not some guy you met at the club.”

Shame turns his ears hot. He nods, head dipping, his hands clenched tight in his lap. “I know. I’m sorry.” He wrings his fingers together. When he speaks, it’s almost whisper. “I just - just didn’t want you to send me home.”

Yoongi turns to him, his gaze a mixture of disbelief and pity. “Jimin-ah, if you wanted to spend the night, you could have just asked.”

It sounds so easy when he says it like that, makes Jimin feel silly for never considering it as an option. He isn’t used to having friends; he isn’t used to asking for what he needs. It doesn’t feel easy to ask Yoongi for company, to tell him he’s lonely.

“Okay,” Jimin whispers, his voice tight. He can barely speak past the lump in his throat.

“Next time you’re sad, just call me. We can hang out.”

Jimin shakes his head immediately, hair falling into his eyes with the force of the movement. “I’m sad all the fucking time, hyung, I can’t do that. You can’t do that. I can’t just run to you every time I’m feeling down, that won’t solve anything - ”

“It won’t,” Yoongi agrees. “I can’t solve your problems. But if you wanna hang out with me instead of fucking around in some shitty club, maybe that’s better, yeah?”

Jimin squeezes his eyes shut because yeah, it does sound better. It sounds nice. He wants to hang out with Yoongi all the time, he does, but he’s too scared to ask too often, scared he’ll start to bother him after a while. “That’s too much,” he breathes. “I can’t burden you like that.”

“I’m a grown-up, Jimin. If you call me and I’m not up for it, then I’ll say no.” He shrugs. It sounds so simple. It can’t really be that simple. “I like spending time with you. It isn’t a burden.”

Jimin’s lip wobbles, his face heating up, the lump in his throat growing painful. He shifts, turning his face away from Yoongi as he tries desperately to blink the tears away. Jimin fucked up, and still Yoongi’s offering so much, still he isn’t turning him away. A tear slips out, and Jimin presses his palms to his eyes to stop them. He doesn’t deserve for Yoongi to be so kind after the way he treated him.

“I can’t always be there for you,” Yoongi says softly. “But I can be there sometimes, right?”

Jimin trembles, and he can’t stop the tears anymore. Yoongi rests his hand on his back, and Jimin sobs quietly, his shoulders shaking. Thank you , he wants to say, but he can’t stop crying long enough to say it.

 

 

When Jimin was 15, Jaehyuk had sat him down and asked if he was depressed.

“You seem like you’re having a hard time,” he’d said, his tone gentle and his eyes warm. Jimin didn’t like admitting when things were difficult, but with Jaehyuk asking him so sincerely, he couldn’t bring it in himself to lie.

“Yeah,” he’d said. “I think I’m having a hard time.”

“If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?” Jaehyuk had asked. “And I don’t mean our parents because unfortunately we can’t do anything about that,” he’d added dryly, and Jimin had smiled.

He hadn’t had to think about it for long. There were a lot of things that contributed to the hopelessness he felt, but he knew most of it could be attributed to one thing. “I’d quit ballet.”

Jaehyuk had nodded, and he hadn’t seemed surprised. Jimin wasn’t exactly secretive about his hatred for ballet. He barely had a social life because it took up all of his time, and he was always injured and hurting; sometimes he felt like his whole body was on fire. Everyone was overcritical and he’d become that way, too, seeing nothing but flaws in his body and his dance. Mostly, he hated that ballet was just another way for his parents to control him.

“I’ll talk to them,” Jaehyuk had said, and he’d sounded so confident that Jimin wanted to believe in him. Wanted to believe that somehow he’d convince them.

And he’d tried. He really had tried. But their parents were like stone walls, impervious to sympathy. All they cared about was that Jimin was good at ballet, and they wanted him so desperately to be someone they could brag about. They hadn’t had to worry about that with Jaehyuk; he was good at everything. Still, Jimin knows their demands for perfection had worn heavily on his brother, too.

Then Jaehyuk died, and Jimin stopped going to ballet class. His parents hadn’t been present enough to notice, and when they noticed, they weren’t present enough to care. It wasn’t until a year later that they laid into him for quitting.

Jimin thinks about that sometimes - how even in death, Jaehyuk had saved him like he always did.

 

 

“Hi, my name is Park Jimin and - ” Jimin breaks off into giggles, falling sideways and probably out of the camera shot.

“Yah,” Yoongi shouts, lowering the camera so his angry face is fully visible. “I’m gonna run out of space, Park Jimin. Get your shit together.”

Jimin’s still giggling. “It’s not my fault your face looks so funny.”

“You can barely even see my face.”

“I can see enough. You just look so serious .”

“What, should I not be serious? Wanna submit a video that’s zoomed in on your nose the whole time?”

“You’re so dramatic, oh my god.”

“Why did I even offer to help you?” Yoongi groans.

“You didn’t offer to help, this was your idea.”

“Sue me for trying to do something nice.”

Jimin finds himself laughing again at the pinched expression on Yoongi’s face. “Fine, fine. I’m serious.” He slaps his cheeks and shakes his body, head to toes. “I’m totally, one hundred percent serious. Let’s roll, Director.”

Yoongi had texted him a picture of a flyer someone had dropped off at the music store a week ago. It was for a summer intensive vocal program at an arts center nearby, where accepted participants could live in the center for the summer and learn various contemporary vocal styles with the chance to network. If accepted, everything would be paid for.

Jimin had been doubtful. He hasn’t had formal vocal training beyond the few years he sang for school when he was younger. He didn’t think there was any way he stood a chance against people who were probably much more talented singers than him, but Yoongi had encouraged him. Might as well try , he’d said. If you don’t get in, who cares?

“Take 334,” Yoongi deadpans, and Jimin waves him off.

“This is only like our third time.”

“Okay, be quiet. 1, 2, 3.”

This time, Jimin makes it all the way through his prepared piece. He tells them about himself and his experience, then he explains his preferred vocal styles and why he chose the song he chose. He’s been practicing the song all week, ever since Yoongi got the idea of the program in his head, even before he’d decided he would apply. At first he’d been shy at the thought of singing in front of Yoongi, but the camera between them feels like a barrier.

When the video’s finally done, Jimin sprawls on the floor next to Yoongi and watches him edit it on his laptop. The way he squints and scrunches his nose while he works is painfully endearing.

“Be useful and make us some coffee,” Yoongi says, and Jimin shoves at him before moving to the kitchen.

Yoongi had taught him how to use the French Press, and Jimin considers himself a pro now. He leans against the counter while he waits for the water to heat. They’ve been doing well since Jimin’s apology. The night isn’t quite forgotten, but they’ve smoothed over it with their time together, and there’s an easier comfort between them now. The other week, Jimin had done as Yoongi suggested and called him when he’d had a hard day. They’d spent the night binging a TV show in silence, shoulder-to-shoulder, and it had been nice. Really nice.

But Jimin’s trying hard not to become too dependent. He knows how dangerous that could become, so he’s trying. But it’s hard. Sometimes Yoongi feels like his whole world, and that scares him. Jimin tries to shrink him down, to make him matter less, but he’s hard to contain.

“Done,” Yoongi announces. He pulls a flash drive from his laptop and stands, stretching. Then he joins Jimin in the kitchen and hands it to him. “Deadline’s in two weeks. Don’t forget to do the written portion.”

“I won’t,” Jimin says, because Yoongi’s reminded him three times already.

“You better submit that on time. Don’t let all my hard work go to waste.”

“All you did was hold the camera.”

“Yah - ”

Jimin laughs, ducking out of the way of Yoongi’s glare. Holding the flash drive in his hand, he feels hopeful. Like suddenly anything’s possible. “I’ll submit it. Don’t worry.”

 

 

It’s always afterward, when the sweat’s drying on his skin, that Jimin realizes he doesn’t like sex.

Before, it always seems like a good idea. He likes the attention and the affection, however little of it, and he likes feeling connected to someone without having to pull down the walls around his heart. But afterward, when it’s over and he realizes he has to leave, that no one’s going to hold him while he falls asleep - he wishes he could disappear. Wishes he could wash away the emotional residue of what he’s done as easily as he can wash away the physical.

And tonight, it’s worse than usual. It’s worse because he’s spent the last few days wanting so badly to die, and because being here means he’s disappointing Yoongi even if Yoongi doesn’t know.

He just couldn’t call him today. He couldn’t. They’re together too often and Jimin feels like he can’t breathe when they aren’t, and that’s scary. He doesn’t want to depend on Yoongi, can’t let himself, because what happens if he loses him? Jimin won’t make it through a second time.

But he hadn’t wanted to be alone. Every second he spent on his own felt like something was crawling underneath his skin, like something was wrapping around his organs and squeezing them tight, tight, tight. So he did what he always does, and now he’s lying on a stranger’s bed with nothing but shame and disgust swirling in his belly.

He pushes himself off the bed and scrambles around to find his clothes, tugging them on haphazardly. The guy still lying there raises his hand in a wave. He doesn’t look up as Jimin mutters a quick goodbye and slips out of his apartment.

It’s only when he checks his phone that he realizes exactly how badly he’d fucked up.

yoongi hyung 9:48 pm

hey deadline’s in like 2 hrs are u done??

yoongi hyung 10:15 pm

yah park jimin

yah

dont ignore ur hyung

yoongi hyung 11:06 pm

did u fall asleep

if ur sleeping u better have submitted that shit already

u could have at least told me

It’s past midnight now. The deadline’s gone, and Jimin didn’t submit a thing. He hadn’t realized what day it was. The longer he stands there on the street, though, the more he realizes he must have known. He must have known inside, and that’s why he’s here, fucking around instead of sitting in his room alone, where he’d have Yoongi’s texts and his own thoughts to remind how much of a failure he is.

He’d tried. He had. But the written portion of the application was hard, and Jimin had spent hours just staring at his computer screen with no words to show for it. It’s hard to get anything done when the depression hits the way it has been, hard to motivate himself. The tentative hope he’d felt became a distant dream when reality hit.

His mother had found the flyer on his bedside table. Won’t go to university, but you’ll waste your time with this? she’d screamed. Jimin remembers wondering how he ever could have thought a summer vocal program was a possibility.

Jimin’s texting back before he can stop himself. Sorry , he says. Fucked up .

The truth is that Jimin didn’t really forget; he gave up. He should have told Yoongi at least, he knows that, told him he wasn’t going to apply anymore. After all Yoongi’s help, that was the least he deserved. But Jimin hadn’t wanted to disappoint him.

Yoongi’s reply is prompt: ??? . A moment later, a follow-up: you didn’t submit it ?

Jimin pockets his phone. He’s walking, his feet taking him to where he needs to go even when his mind’s barely present. He’s starting to feel like he’s floating again, and he hates that feeling. He pinches his arm hard enough to make him wince, but it doesn’t help.

His phone buzzes with another text in his pocket, but Jimin doesn’t look. He’s lucky he knows where he is; some nights, he has no idea. On the way to the river, he stops in a convenience store for some alcohol. The drinks he had before have all but worn off.

He knows just where to find the most secluded parts of the river, and he takes off his shoes and walks along the shore. He wishes it was winter instead of summer, wishes the water lapping at his feet was cold enough to wake him up. To bring him back down to earth.

His phone’s buzzing again. He answers it.

“Where are you?” Yoongi says down the line, and he sounds pissed.

“Sorry,” Jimin mumbles. “I fuck everything up.”

Yoongi exhales. When he speaks again, he sounds like he’s trying hard to keep his tone level. “Why didn’t you submit your application?”

“‘Cause I wanna die,” Jimin says, and it’s maybe the most honest thing he’s said in a long time.

“Jimin.” Yoongi sounds strained. Jimin shouldn’t have picked up. “Where are you?”

“Sorry hyung,” Jimin says quietly. “Thanks for helping me.”

“Jimin - ” Yoongi blurts, and now it’s panicked. “Don’t hang up. Where are you? Just tell me where you are. Hyung’s gonna come get you, okay?”

“It’s okay, I’m just by the river. You don’t have to worry. I’m just walking. I promise.”

“I’m gonna come get you. Wait for me, okay?”

Jimin wonders how he’s going to find him when he hasn’t shared his location, but he looks and sees that he’d never stopped sharing it with him from last time. For a brief moment, Jimin considers turning it off and running far from the river, where Yoongi can’t find him. But running away sounds too hard. Yoongi already knows where he is.

When Yoongi reaches him, Jimin’s waded into the water. He’s only far enough for it to come up to his thighs. The heavy feeling of the water moving around his legs is helping his mind feel less like it’s floating away.

“Jimin,” Yoongi calls.

Jimin turns around to look at him. He’s standing on the shore, water around his shoes. “I’m sorry,” Jimin says.

“Come here so we can talk about it.”

It isn’t a request, and something about the firm surety of Yoongi’s tone has Jimin walking toward him against himself. “I was just walking,” he tries to explain, but the words are hard to come by. He wants to die, but he wasn’t going to do anything.

“Okay,” Yoongi says, reaching for his hand. He intertwines their fingers and leads Jimin to his shoes. “Can you tell me what happened, Jiminie?”

“I wouldn’t have gotten in. My mom doesn’t want me to. I couldn’t write the essay.”

Yoongi runs his free hand over his face. “You had a chance, Jimin. You were so close to finishing.”

“It wouldn’t have mattered.”

“Yes, it would have.” He’s beginning to sound frustrated. “You might have gotten in.”

“I wouldn’t have.”

“So you can tell the future now, huh? You looked into a fucking crystal ball and saw that yourself getting rejected?”

“Even if I got in, my mom wouldn’t have let me go.”

“Fuck what she wants,” Yoongi says, like it’s easy. “This is your life. You need to live for yourself.”

Jimin stares at him, doesn’t know how to find the words to tell him that it isn’t that simple. That he can’t just do whatever he wants.

Yoongi softens. “I know,” he says, understanding Jimin’s unspoken words. “I know it isn’t that easy. But we could have figured something out. Maybe she would have changed her mind with time. The point is, there’s no way of knowing until you try.”

“So what if I did get in?” Jimin snaps. “What’s that gonna do? I’m gonna become a fucking singer and pay off my parents’ loans and suddenly I won’t wanna die anymore?”

“Don’t say it like that. You know it isn’t like that.”

“Then what’s it like?”

“You have to fucking try.” Yoongi lets go of his hand. “You aren’t even trying. You just want to be miserable forever.”

Jimin scoffs. “Fuck you,” he says, because that hurts. “You don’t know what it’s like.”

“I do!” Yoongi shouts. “You know I do. I wanted to die, too. Sometimes I still do. Getting better is hard, Jimin, it’s fucking hard. But you have to try.”

“I am trying.”

“Don’t think I can’t see that hickey on your neck.”

Jimin flinches. He turns away. “Leave me alone.”

He hears Yoongi sigh, feels a hand on his shoulder. “Look, I’m sorry. You relapsed, I get it.” He turns Jimin gently around to face him. “You can try again.”

Jimin stares at him. He’s angry and he’s hurting and mostly he knows Yoongi’s right. Jimin hadn’t wanted to try. Trying is scary, too.

“There are tons of vocal programs out there,” Yoongi says. “We can find another one. And next time, you’ll call me instead of going out, right?”

Jimin doesn’t say anything, He lowers himself to the ground by his shoes.

“Come on,” Yoongi says. “We can go back to my place. I’ll make you some hot chocolate.”

“I don’t wanna go back to your place,” Jimin says. He looks up at Yoongi, and there’s a lump in his throat. His eyes are swimming.

“Why?” he starts, then sighs. “I’ll take you home.”

“Because I love you,” Jimin says, and he can feel the wetness on his cheeks. “And you won’t love me back.”

Yoongi’s expression shutters. He takes a step back. “Jimin,” he says, and Jimin winces at the resigned tone of his voice. “You don’t love me.”

“I do,” Jimin insists. “I do.”

“You’re projecting.” The words are harsh, but his tone is gentle. Gentle, and a little sad. “You only feel like that because I’m the first person to take care of you.”

“That’s not true,” Jimin snaps. “Don’t act like you know how I feel.”

Yoongi crouches in front of him. For a moment, he puts his head in his hands, hiding his face from Jimin's view. Jimin has the sudden realization that maybe Yoongi's hurting just as much as he is. Yoongi lifts his head. He runs a hand through his hair. "You don't love me," he repeats firmly. "Let's go home."

He stands, but Jimin doesn't follow. He shakes his head forcefully. "I'll go home myself."

"Stop," Yoongi says, and his voice trembles. "Just stop."

It's the way he sounds that takes all the fight out of Jimin. He stands and follows him to his car. Even with the tension between them, Yoongi still leans over to buckle Jimin in. That's what has the tears starting fresh again, because even now Yoongi's taking care of him. He likes taking care of people, he'd said so once. Jimin's afraid that maybe he's been taking advantage of that without realizing it.

When Yoongi pulls up in front of Jimin's building, Jimin sits there for a quiet moment without moving. Yoongi doesn't ask him to get out; he just waits.

"I'm sorry," Jimin finally says. "Thank you for everything you've done for me."

The finality of his words hangs in the air between them. Jimin slips out of his car and closes the door carefully behind himself. Then he walks up to his building and doesn't look back.

 

 

The summer bleeds into autumn. Yoongi and Jimin don't talk.

 

 

It's a five hour bus ride from Seoul to Busan, and Jimin spends it with his resting on the cool window. He doesn't mind the way his head bumps the glass when the bus jostles. After the first hour, he barely even notices anymore.

The last time he visited his mother’s parents was when his grandmother had a fall three years go. They used to go every year before Jaehyuk’s death; after that, his parents stopped visiting. With Jaehyuk gone, they should have had even more reason to gather with family for Chuseok, but Jimin thinks his parents had wanted to get as far away from death as possible after that.

It's a little less than a month until Chuseok, but he's going to stay with his grandparents until then. It was his father's idea, though his mother seemed just as willing. Something about being tired of him, and something else about wanting him to be more useful. He can't bring himself to be upset. He's always enjoyed visiting his grandparents, and he thinks a change of pace might be nice. Maybe it's Seoul that makes his skin crawl.

His grandparents run a tiny restaurant near the mountains, away from the city, but it's grown difficult for them with age, and they don't like to ask for help. However much Jimin had hated the way his mother had suggested the idea - since you aren't going to do anything else with your life , she'd started - he knows she's right. They could use the extra hand.

He’d told his grandparents not to trouble themselves by coming all the way to the bus station, but his grandfather’s waiting there with his car anyway. He beams at the sight of Jimin, holding his arms out.

“Jimin-ah!”

Jimin hugs him and wonders if he was always this small. His parents have never been big on hugs. The feeling of his grandfather’s arms tight around him after so long feels strange and welcome.

“Look at you,” his grandfather says. “It’s been so long. You’ve grown, haven’t you?”

Jimin smiles. He’s the same height as he’s been for the last seven years. “I don’t think I’ve grown much, Harabeoji.”

“Nonsense. You weren’t always this tall.” He tries to help Jimin put his luggage in the car, but Jimin argues until he lets him do it himself. “Your Halmeoni has a big lunch waiting for you.”

“I told her not to trouble herself,” Jimin sighs, climbing into the passenger seat. “You want me to drive?”

“How old do you think I am?” he grouches. “She’s convinced you eat nothing but cup noodles all day. She says that’s all the kids your age eat in the dramas.”

“Only for dinner,” Jimin says, grinning.

“Cup noodles for dinner,” he scoffs. “No wonder you’re so small.”

“Hey! You just said I’d grown.”

“Still small overall.” He brakes abruptly, and Jimin lurches forward. “Was that stop sign always there?”

“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive?”

“Don’t be a brat.”

His grandmother comes outside when she hears the car pull up. She’s wearing an apron, a dishrag in her hand, and when Jimin steps out of the car, she starts waving happily. His grandfather shoos him toward her, taking the suitcase out himself.

“Jimin-ah,” she croons, kissing both his cheeks. “Oh, look at how you’ve grown. Your parents have kept you away from me for too long. Why don’t they visit, huh?”

Jimin laughs. “I dunno, Halmeoni, you’re gonna have to ask them that.”

“You could have visited on your own,” she scolds, pulling him inside.

He leaves his shoes at the door and follows her inside. They live in a traditional house, which Jimin had always found fascinating as a child. He and Jaehyuk used to play with the sliding doors and run around the courtyard until their heads spun. They hadn’t liked using the outhouse, though. Going out at night had always scared Jimin. He used to drag Jaehyuk with him and make him stand outside until he was done.

The table is already set with an array of food that makes Jimin’s mouth water. He’d missed his grandmother’s cooking. The sight of the full table has a rush of emotion filling him; he has to look away, blinking rapidly. She did this all for him.

“Jimin-ah?” she asks gently, patting his cheek.

“I missed you,” he says, and she rubs his arm.

“I missed you, too.”

The food’s as good as he remembers. Jaehyuk used to tease their mother when they were kids - how come your cooking isn’t as good as Halmeoni’s ? Jimin eats well, letting them push as much food toward him as they want even when he’s full. It feels strange, having their attention focused solely on him. Something inside him cinches tight.

“Your eomma said she was tired of your behavior,” his grandfather says somewhere along the way. “She wanted you to come here and learn how to act well again.”

The food sticks in Jimin’s throat.

“That’s what I thought,” his grandmother says, even though he hadn’t spoken a word. “I told her I didn’t believe it. My Jimin-ah was always so well-behaved.”

He stares at her, heat flooding to his face in a sudden rush of emotion. He doesn’t deserve that, he thinks, but then maybe he does. He’s never rude to his parents. He’s never hurt them like they hurt him. But Jimin isn’t well-behaved; he’s a mess. Still, his grandmother’s looking at him like she knows him better than he does. He almost wants to believe her.

“We don’t need the help,” his grandfather insists. “We’re not old yet, though your mother seems to think we’re ancient already. But maybe you’ll like working in the restaurant.”

“Yes,” she agrees. “Honest work is good for the heart.”

Jimin smiles, swallowing past his dry throat. “Thank you for the opportunity,” he murmurs, and they beam at him.

“Now keep eating,” his grandmother says. “You’re too small.”

 

 

The first thing they do in the morning, after whipping up a simple breakfast and walking down to the restaurant, is take inventory. Jimin helps his grandparents tally what they have based on what they need, then his grandmother writes him a list of what’s short and sends him down to the store. He jogs over, knowing there’s little time before the restaurant opens for the day, and tries to decode her messy handwriting for the store owner. He seems familiar with her requests, and smiles at him pleasantly.

“I remember when you and your hyung used to visit,” he says while his son fetches the things Jimin needs. “Used to have some candy for you both every time. You’d get so excited.”

Jimin bows, feeling guilty that he doesn’t remember the man as well as he remembers Jimin. He offers his earnest compliments instead. “We used to love visiting. We always liked it much better here.”

“‘Course you did,” he says proudly, then shuffles around in a cabinet under the counter and comes up with a lollipop. “For old times’ sake.”

Jimin takes it, his heart lurching. He doesn’t mean to, but of course he thinks of Yoongi.

The man sends him off with a heavy box full of what he needs, and Jimin lugs it all the way back to the restaurant. His grandfather’s straightening tables, and his grandmother’s chopping vegetables. He helps her put away the new groceries and sits down to peel the potatoes. His grandmother leaves the vegetables to him while she sets off to prepare something else. The bell above the door announces the arrival of the first customer.

Their restaurant is tiny, with rickety wooden tables and a bulletin board of notes and photos from customers, but it’s popular in their town. Everyone loves his grandmother’s cooking. Most of their customers are regulars, something Jimin finds both disconcerting and relieving. He never has to deal with the cruelty of the customers he dealt with at his job in Seoul; no one would dare be so rude here. But all these strangers greeting him like a long-lost relative is rather overwhelming.

“You and your hyung always used to be underfoot!” One woman laughs, rubbing his back like she’s his aunt or something. “I remember your hyung was always trying to scare you. You were such a baby back then.”

Hearing so many people mention his hyung is disconcerting, too. His parents try to keep Jaehyuk’s name out of their mouths. Jimin’s father only mentions him when he’s trying to make Jimin feel bad. His mother doesn’t mention him at all.

Jimin tries to hang around the kitchen, but his grandmother shoos him out before long. “Go serve the tables,” she says. “We usually don’t have time for that. Maybe your cute face will convince someone to order something else.”

He rolls his eyes fondly and goes out to do as he’s told. He hands out drinks and takes new orders, finding himself embroiled in conversation again and again as people he only vaguely recognizes ask him about his parents and his life. It’s a little too much, all the socializing, but he puts on his best face for his grandparents’ sake.

“We miss Jaehyuk,” one of the older men says. Jimin remembers him; he’s friends with his grandfather. Jimin used to play with his grandson sometimes. “You must miss him all the time.”

Jimin nods, throat tight. “I miss him.”

The man pats Jimin’s arm in comfort before Jimin moves on to the next table.

Closing up the restaurant takes a long time, too. Jimin scrubs down the tables and sweeps the floor then helps clear up the kitchen. They have enough leftovers for dinner which he’s grateful for, having no energy to cook yet another meal. He’s ready to get home and fall asleep, wonders if he’ll even manage to put his bedding out or if he’ll just fall asleep right on the hard floor. Last night, he hadn’t slept well; his room was the same he’d shared with his brother growing up. The memories had weighed on him like a second blanket.

“Come,” his grandfather says, surprising Jimin out of his stupor as he veers away from the direction to their home. Jimin shuffles along after him. “Your Halmeoni’s knees aren’t good for it, but I like to take a walk after dinner.”

“Harabeoji, I’m tired,” Jimin whines, and his grandfather just laughs and claps his back.

“It’s good for you,” he insists. “How do you think I got so healthy?”

“Definitely not from all that smoking you do.”

He scoffs. “I saw the cigarettes in your pocket, Park Jimin. What are you trying to tell me?”

“I might still quit one day,” Jimin says. He’s startled to find that he means it. In his mind’s eye, he can see himself with a pocket full of lollipops like Yoongi, eyeing smokers on the street with longing.

“Who says I won’t?” his grandfather challenges, then shakes his head. “I won’t. It’s too late for me.”

He walks more briskly than Jimin anticipated, and he’s almost struggling to match his pace. They walk quite a ways before turning back, and by the time they make it home, Jimin’s about ready to fall asleep on his feet. His grandmother fixes him a cup of herbal tea and doesn’t let him retreat to his room until he’s finished it. He spreads his bedding on the floor wearily and falls into it, stripping down to his boxers because he’s too tired to find his sweatpants.

His lids are slipping closed, but he puts his phone to his face anyway, the glowing screen making him squint. Like he has every night, he opens Yoongi’s contact and thinks of what he could say.

I miss you , maybe. Or I’m sorry , again. Please forgive me .

And like every night, Jimin sends nothing, because maybe Yoongi’s right. Maybe his feelings aren’t real after all.

 

 

One night - on a Monday, when the restaurant’s closed and they have the energy to be awake after sunset - his grandparents rope him into karaoke. At first he resists, watching them sing instead on the machine they’d bought for when they invite their friends over. But eventually he’s pulled into it, and he sings alongside his grandmother, sometimes silly and sometimes serious.

“You have such a pretty voice, Jimin-ah,” his grandmother tells him, out of breath after a particularly rousing song.

“That’s right,” his grandfather starts. “Didn’t Jaehyuk always used to say Jiminie wanted to be a singer?”

“He did,” she agrees. “He was always so proud of you.”

Jimin winces. He tries to keep a straight face, nodding in response, but the change in expression must be obvious.

“You don’t like talking about him,” she observes.

He shrugs. It’s true, but this time it wasn’t because of him. This time, it’s because he can’t stop thinking about the disappointment on Yoongi’s face the night of the deadline. Or the sound of his laughter while they’d filmed the video together. He still has it, tucked safely into the pocket of his backpack.

“My parents don’t talk about him much,” he finally says.

His grandfather shakes his head, and the set of his mouth is troubled. “We should always remember the people we’ve lost.”

They sit for a long moment in silence.

His grandmother finally breaks it. “I’m going to invite all my friends over,” she says, “so you can outsing them all.”

Jimin waves her off, embarrassed, and pours them both some more wine. One of the benefits of living with his grandparents, aside from being too physically tired to feel as sad as he usually does, is that he’s forced to have a handle on his drinking. If he ever has time to drink, it’s with them, which means he has to limit himself out of respect. There’s never any opportunity to sneak a bottle and finish it off on his own. On days when the restaurant’s open, by the time he makes it to his room, he’s asleep the moment he lies down.

That night, Jimin pulls out his laptop, forcing his tired eyes open, and searches for vocal programs in the area. He finds one almost immediately - an entertainment company offering a two-week seminar. It’s nothing like the program Yoongi had found, but it’s something. And maybe something small would be better to start with.

They only want an audition video, nothing else. Jimin takes the flash drive from his backpack and turns it over in his hand, learning its ridges and curves. He falls asleep holding it.

Two nights later, he takes a deep breath and submits it.

 

 

They must be real.

If his feelings for Yoongi weren’t real, they would have faded with distance. They would have faded without Yoongi’s care and attention to buffer them, without his presence surrounding Jimin like an embrace. But they haven’t faded.

Jimin sees him in everything. In the food he helps cook, remembering Yoongi’s favorite dishes and the ones he hated. In the lollipops the grocery store owner saves for him every time he stops by. In the familiar music he hears drifting through the street one day, coming from a group of kids and their boombox.

The exhaustion might have stripped him of the oppressive nature of his sadness, but it hasn’t taken Yoongi from him. Jimin wakes up with Yoongi’s name on his breath and sleeps with his face in his mind. If it wasn’t real, this wouldn’t be so hard.

He wouldn’t miss him so much.

 

 

When they sent him away, his parents promised they would come to Busan for Chuseok this year. Foolishly, Jimin had believed them.

The day of Chuseok comes, and his parents don’t.

When Jimin wakes at dawn with his grandparents, the sadness weighs on his shoulders in a way it hasn’t since he came to Busan. He isn’t used to it anymore, and it feels heavier than it did before. It’s hard to move. He knew he couldn’t stay away from it for long; no matter what he does, it always comes creeping back.

He prepares the food with his grandparents, something that takes a great deal of time and effort. They arrange the table accordingly and complete the ceremony, then sit down to eat. By then, Jimin’s already tired, but his grandfather keeps pouring him alcohol until he tries to perk up a little.

“When I was around your age,” his grandmother tells him, “I ruined one of the dishes I made for Chuseok and didn’t even realize it. The whole family was there to try it. I was mortified.”

She’s laughing about it now. “Your halmeoni used to be terrible at cooking, if you’d believe it,” his grandfather says.

“You weren’t so good yourself until the restaurant.”

“I would have been so embarrassed,” Jimin says.

“Oh, believe me, I was. Hid behind the house and cried for an hour.” She ladles Jimin more food and smiles, looking a little distant, like she’s still remembering. “But that’s the thing about growing old. The things that used to upset you don’t matter anymore.”

“You can hardly remember them,” his grandfather agrees.

“The only reason I still remember that Chuseok is because it inspired me to work twice as hard the next year, and my dishes were so good they made everyone’s mouth water just looking at them.” She looks proud even now. “And that’s when I decided I wanted to have a restaurant one day.”

“Really?” Jimin exclaims. “That’s what made you do it?”

“Funny, isn’t it?”

He nods, but his heart clenches. He wonders if it’s possible for a day to come where everything won’t be as hard as it is now. Where he looks back on himself and finds his problems to be tiny, inconsequential.

Somehow he knows that won’t be true. He’s grown to understand that the sadness sitting inside his bones is there to stay, and that he’ll have to live with it until he dies. But his last weeks have been good, manageable, so maybe there’s hope. Maybe one day he’ll come to a place where he can cope with it.

“Does it ever get easier?” he asks them quietly. “Losing the people you love.”

His grandparents have lost nearly everyone by now, their brothers and sisters and parents. Their own daughter hardly comes to see them, and he knows the loss of Jaehyuk hit them hard, too.

His grandmother reaches out to take his hand in hers. “No,” she says honestly. “The grief becomes a companion.”

“But over time,” his grandfather allows, “it loses its sharpness.”

She nods, squeezing Jimin’s hand tightly. “You’re so young,” she says, then she starts to cry.

Jimin can’t bear the sight of it when he’s already feeling so fragile. He scoots over to her side and hugs her, pulling her head to his shoulder. She rubs his arm, her voice watery through the tears.

“He was such a good boy. He loved you so much.”

“I know,” Jimin whispers. “I know.”

“He’d be so proud of you if he saw you now.”

That’s when Jimin starts to cry, too, because he wouldn’t be proud. How could Jaehyuk be proud when Jimin’s done nothing but dig himself deeper and deeper into this hole he’s stuck in? How could he be proud when Jimin’s done nothing but ruin everything in his life, one-by-one?

His grandmother reaches up and wipes his tears with her hand. Jimin wants to be someone Jaehyuk would be proud of. Someone Yoongi will be proud of. The sadness doesn’t go away, but he realizes that part of why his weeks in Busan have gone so well is because he’s trying. He’s been trying so hard with the little things, in clearing away his bed every morning, in peeling the potatoes just a little faster each day, in learning new dishes to cook. He has a routine, he has homemade food, and his vices are hard to access.

And most importantly, he has people who love him.

He won’t have any of this when he goes back to Seoul. That’s scary. Part of him feels like the bad habits will sink right back into him with no one to keep them in check. When the club’s a bus ride away and his parents won’t look at him and there’s no one to make him herbal tea before he sleeps each night. When his job’s scheduled strangely, and sometimes he has too much time on his hands, and he can never sleep because the city’s always awake.

But Jaehyuk had told Jimin to be strong, and Jimin wants to try. He wants to start over.

 

 

That night, when Jimin lies in bed staring at his old chat with Yoongi, a bubble pops up with three dots. Jimin almost drops his phone on his face. He blinks, wondering if weariness is making him see things. The bubble disappears.

Then it pops up again.

Yoongi’s typing.

Jimin stares for a long, long time, until his eyes are blurring and his head’s hurting, but Yoongi never sends anything. He’d wondered if Yoongi missed him. If he even thought of him, or if Jimin had been but a blip on his radar. But now -

It’s been weeks, and Yoongi’s typing and deleting a message the same way Jimin does every night.

He falls asleep with his phone tucked against his chest. When he wakes up the next morning, he picks it up and stares at their chat until he can summon up the courage to start typing a message.

hey, yoongi hyung. i hope you’re doing well. i was wondering if we could talk sometime? i understand if you don’t want to, and i don’t expect you to keep giving me chances. i just wanted to ask. take care.

He takes a deep, long breath, and he sends the message.

 

 

On his last night in Busan, Jimin looks up at the sky and realizes the stars are innumerable.

 

 

yoongi hyung 2:24 am

hey, jimin. i’d like that. come when i’m closing on monday?

 

 

Jimin wipes his hands on his oversized sweater and opens the music shop’s door only when the clock strikes 10 PM exactly. The door chimes as he slips inside. Yoongi’s organizing CDs, switching one from one bucket to the next, squinting at the titles with a slightly annoyed expression. Jimin stops in the entrance, his breath catching in his throat. It feels silly to think of it like this, but looking at Yoongi feels like looking at the sun. It hurts, and he’s beautiful. Jimin takes in the familiar way he moves and the way his hair falls over his forehead and the way he looks up at him, raising one hand in a wave.

Jimin waves back, swallowing past the lump in his throat.

“Need some help?” he offers, and Yoongi nods.

“People always put them in the wrong spots,” he explains, and his low voice sounds like music to Jimin’s ears after so long. “They’re alphabetical and by genre.”

Jimin takes the table across from him and starts to sift through the buckets. “How have you been?” he asks tentatively.

Yoongi glances up, his fingers pausing in their work. He deliberates for a moment, then shrugs. “Been worse. You?”

“I was in Busan for a month.”

He looks up again, surprised. “Busan? Really?”

“I was visiting my grandparents.” He decides to leave out the part about his parents being tired of him. “Helped out with their restaurant.”

“How was it?”

Jimin takes one slow breath, counting to five on the exhale, as he moves an album that starts with the letter ‘P’ out of the ‘X’ bucket. “It was really good,” he starts. “Um, I was doing a lot better over there. WIth everything.”

Yoongi’s eyes soften. “That’s good, Jimin-ah,” he murmurs, and Jimin’s heart clenches. “I’m glad to hear it.”

“I found another vocal program. It’s just a two-week thing, and it’s with an entertainment company, and I don’t know if I’ve gotten in it but - I submitted the video. I, um, thought I’d try.”

“I’m proud of you,” Yoongi says, and the look on his face reflects it - tender gaze, smile curling at his lips. “I bet it wasn’t easy.”

He nods, looking back down at the CDs. “It wasn’t.”

“I’m sorry.”

Jimin’s hands still. He sneaks a glance, and Yoongi looks troubled.

“I think I was too hard on you,” he says quietly. “The last time we saw each other. I should have done better.”

Jimin shakes his head. “I needed that,” he admits. “I needed a wake-up call.”

They’re quiet for a long moment, with the clatter of CD cases the only sound between them.

“I know it’s hard to try,” Yoongi finally says. “It’s still hard for me. Had a bad spell after we saw each other, didn’t get out of bed for a few days.” He purses his lips as if mulling over his next words before he says them. “I was just worried about you. I don’t want you to fade away.”

Jimin blinks, his throat tight.

“Every day’s an effort, you know?”

“I know.” Jimin moves on to the next bucket of CDs. “I tried a lot when I was in Busan. I tried really hard.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. And I was afraid coming back here would make everything go back to before, and it still might, but I want to keep trying.”

“I believe in you, Jiminie,” Yoongi says, and he sounds like he means it.

“I’m sorry for taking advantage of you,” Jimin whispers. “I just - just wasn’t used to being taken care of.”

“I don’t think you were taking advantage of me,” he says easily. “You hardly ever asked me for anything. I just liked taking care of you.” He shrugs. “The only time I felt like you were was when you wanted to have sex.”

Even now, Jimin flushes with shame at the memory.

“It’s okay to ask for what you need. It’s okay to want help.”

Jimin finishes organizing the last bucket on his table and moves around to Yoongi’s. He shoves his hands in his pockets and watches him work, trying to gather the courage to say what he needs to say.

“I also, um - I wanted to tell you that I still feel the same way about you.” He swallows harshly, can’t quite meet Yoongi’s gaze while he speaks. He stares at his right shoulder instead. “I know you thought I was projecting, and maybe I was. Maybe I am.”

Yoongi’s staring at him with an unreadable expression, waiting.

“But I think - even if I fell for you because you were the first person to take care of me, I think that’s okay. Because I fell for your thoughtfulness, your tenderness.” He licks his dry lips, swallows past the lump in his throat again. “And then I fell for everything else. Like how you’re so funny without trying and you never give a fuck about what anyone thinks. And how you’re a big softie even though you won’t admit it, always looking out for everyone, and how you have a Kumamon pillow and even though you drink five cups of coffee a day, every single one still has to be perfect.”

Jimin’s voice is trembling. He finally dares to shift his gaze to Yoongi’s face and finds him staring back. His eyes are glistening, and his cheeks are red.

“I really like you,” Jimin says. “And it’s fine if you don’t want anything to do with me in that way, I just wanted to tell you. But I think you’re a really good person. I look up to you a lot. And I hope we can eventually be friends again.”

“Jimin-ah.” His voice is gentle, and Jimin’s stomach drops. Yoongi reaches his hand out, and Jimin unearths his own from his pocket to place it carefully in Yoongi’s. “We had a rough spot. We didn’t stop being friends.”

Jimin nods. His throat is so tight it hurts.

“I like you, too,” Yoongi admits, and Jimin feels like his heart’s swelling, pushing against his ribcage, trying to break free. “How could I not? You’re so endearing.”

Jimin flushes, casting his gaze down at their joined hands.

“Being around you made me really happy.” It looks like he’s trying to find the right words, lips twisting. “That’s why it hurt so much when you told me. I thought there was no way you could really ever like me.”

“I do,” Jimin says. His heart swells with the thought that he’d made Yoongi happy, even if it was just an ounce next to how happy Yoongi made him. “I really do.”

“I’m just - just a little worried because I’ve never really wanted to be in a relationship. It isn’t something I thought I’d be good for.”

“Me neither,” Jimin murmurs. “I never wanted one either.”

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea to jump into something that’s so new for both of us.”

“We could try?” Jimin shrugs, twining their fingers together. “We can take baby steps.”

“Yeah,” Yoongi says. “We could try.”

“Hyung,” Jimin asks shyly, “Will you go on a date with me?”

Yoongi smiles, small at first then stretching into the gummy one Jimin loves so much. “I’d love that,” he says, and Jimin finally feels like the world has settled into place again.

 

 

Yoongi picks Jimin up promptly at 8 PM, which is a problem because Jimin is terrible at promptness. He's still dabbing BB cream on his face when his phone buzzes with a phone call from Yoongi. Jimin puts him on speaker and tries to move a little faster.

"I'm here," Yoongi says gruffly, and Jimin finds it endearing that he'd called instead of just texting.

"Five more minutes," Jimin says. "Promise."

"Park Jimin," he complains, but Jimin can tell he isn't really annoyed. Jimin giggles and hangs up, then hurries to pull on his clothes.

Yoongi's standing outside his car, leaning against the passenger door, when Jimin bounces out of his building. It takes him four and a half minutes to get down, a fact he proudly tells Yoongi as soon as he's within earshot. Then he holds out the pretty potted orchid he'd bought that morning. "This is for you."

Yoongi takes it, cradling it in one arm while he touches its petals delicately with the other. "It's so pretty."

"I wanted to get you flowers, but they die so fast. So I thought this might be better."

Yoongi looks up, and he's smiling. His ears are tinged pink. "Thanks, Jiminie."

Jimin beams. He watches Yoongi buckle the pot into the backseat before opening the passenger door for Jimin to slip inside. Yoongi leans over him to buckle him in, and he doesn't give him as much space as he usually does. His hand brushes Jimin's side.

It's only when Yoongi starts driving that Jimin starts to feel jittery again. He'd almost panicked in the midst of picking his outfit; there were too many choices and too much to consider, and he'd ended up sitting on his bed in tears, with a mountain of clothes around him. Of course, it wasn't really the outfit. It was that Jimin's never really been on a date before - not a real one.

All the dates he's gone on have ended in sex. There was always the implicit understanding that the date was just formality, something to get through before they fucked. None of the people Jimin went on dates with ever cared about him, and he'd never cared about them either.

But there's too much on the line with Yoongi. Jimin wants so desperately for Yoongi to decide that he's someone worth having around. He knows he doesn't have a good track record, that he's lucky Yoongi had even agreed to come on a date with him at all. He knows he isn't the type of person people want to keep.

"Hey, stop that."

Jimin startles, glancing over. "Huh?"

"You're making me nervous."

Jimin realizes he's jostling his knee up and down. He flushes, putting a hand on his leg to keep it still. "You aren't nervous?" he asks incredulously.

"Well," Yoongi adjusts, a little pink again, "more nervous."

That's comforting, at least. Jimin settles in and tries to calm himself down. It's just Yoongi. They've hung out countless times; just because it's a date doesn't mean it has to be different.

But it is different. He wants Yoongi to decide he's worth it.

"You look really nice," Yoongi murmurs after a moment, studiously avoiding his gaze.

Jimin blushes. "Thank you. So do you."

Yoongi spends most of his time in jeans and jackets, but today he's wearing a loose button-down tucked into his dark pants. His sleeves are pushed up to show off the tattoos on his arms, and the top few buttons are undone to reveal a bit of smooth chest. He squirms under Jimin's appraisal, but he holds himself confidently otherwise.

"You clean up nicely," Jimin adds, and Yoongi snorts.

"Yeah, yeah," he mutters, reaching out to play a cassette and ease some of the awkwardness between them.

It's getting colder, and Jimin shivers with the breeze when he steps out of the car. He'd like a smoke, but he's been trying to cut down, so he rubs his sweaty palms on his pants instead. The cafe they've come to is small and charming, strings of lights hanging over the outdoor seating and potted flowers bordering the brick of the building. They decide to sit outside; the slight cold feels pleasant.

"What are you gonna get?" Jimin asks as they pore over the menu.

"I dunno," Yoongi muses. "I'm not really a dessert person."

"Try the key lime pie," Jimin suggests. "My hyung didn't really like desserts either but he always loved key lime pie. It's not as sweet."

Yoongi glances at him. Jimin can tell it's meant to be discreet, but he catches it anyway. He can feel the weight of Yoongi's gaze on his skin. He's surprised himself, honestly, with how easy it is to bring up Jaehyuk outside of the context of his death.

"I'll try it," Yoongi says. "And their drip."

"Coffee at 8 pm?" Jimin teases.

"Like we haven't had coffee together even later."

"You should try sleeping sometime. It's nice."

"You're one to talk."

"I don't like sleeping alone," Jimin admits, then flushes, casting his gaze down at the table. He'd promised himself not to be weird tonight. He wants their date to be happy.

"Sleep with me," Yoongi offers like it's nothing.

Jimin looks up, his face hot. Yoongi has never struck Jimin as a particularly open person, yet still it's so easy for him to offer Jimin space in his heart. He took Jimin into his life like it really was nothing.

"I mean," Yoongi flounders, suddenly embarrassed, "you can spend the night whenever you want, you know? I don't mind the company." He pauses, then amends, "I'd like the company."

"That'd be nice," Jimin admits quietly, gazing at the empty space between them until the waitress comes to take their orders.

Their desserts and coffee are aesthetically beautiful, and Jimin tugs out his phone to snap a few pictures. He sneaks a few of Yoongi, too. He used to love taking pictures when he was younger, but as he aged he found less and less to appreciate. These days his photo albums are mostly empty.

"Your hyung had good taste," Yoongi says after taking the first bite of his pie. He pauses to appreciate the flavor, nose scrunching up.

Jimin smiles and digs into his own dessert, a cup of mousse topped with chocolate shavings and berries. "He liked music a lot, too. Had a big shelf of stuff like you."

"Yeah? So he didn't just listen to music on his phone?"

"Leave me alone," Jimin whines. "I have a turntable now, don't I?"

"Thanks to me," Yoongi boasts.

"You're so full of it."

"Mm, I know." Yoongi spears a bite of pie and holds it out. "Want to try?"

Jimin leans in, and Yoongi feeds it to him carefully. "It's yummy. Want some of mine?"

"Sure, why not."

Jimin holds out a spoonful and tries not to stare too hard at Yoongi's mouth.

"Not bad," Yoongi says. After a moment, he asks, "Do you think you'll ever dance again? Or are you done with it forever?"

Jimin shrugs. "I like dancing for fun sometimes. Like at clubs and stuff. But I don't think I'll ever do anything more formal than that."

"I want to see you dance," Yoongi admits.

Jimin leans his chin in his hand, smiling coyly. "I can dance for you, hyung."

Yoongi scoffs and waves him off. Jimin returns to his food, giggling. They finish their dessert and take their coffee to-go, strolling down the block leisurely. The lights of the city are bright and distracting, but Jimin's too focused on Yoongi to let them overwhelm him. After a few blocks of Jimin trying to be discreet about huddling closer to Yoongi, Yoongi slips an arm around his waist and tugs him into his side. Jimin peers over at him and beams, then tucks himself closer.

"You said you never really wanted to be in a relationship," Jimin starts. "Why's that?"

Yoongi takes a moment to gather his words before he answers. "Just with the way my personality is, I thought I wouldn't be relationship material. I'm a workaholic and I don't like going out a lot. People aren't really into that."

"Hey, give yourself some credit," Jimin murmurs. "There's a lot more to you than that."

"And I'm ace." He shrugs. "People aren't really into that, either. After I got kicked out, I got so used to fending for myself that I forgot having someone around could be an option."

"Yeah," Jimin says, because he gets that.

"What about you?"

"After - after hyung died, I kind of drifted from most of my friends. I haven't been close to anyone in a long time. Letting someone in scares me."

"Because you might lose them," Yoongi finishes for him, and he nods.

"Meeting you reminded me that the risk can be worth it."

Yoongi squeezes him against his side, resting his head briefly against his as they walk. "Thank you for thinking so highly of me. I don't think I deserve it."

"You do," Jimin insists, looking over at him. "You're really admirable, you know. You make me want to do better."

Yoongi swallows harshly, his Adam's apple bobbing. He takes a moment before he meets Jimin's eyes. "That means a lot to me. More than I can say."

"I should be thanking you," Jimin says, looking forward again as they cross a busy street. "For giving me a chance. I know I'm not the kind of person anyone wants to imagine a future with."

"Hey," Yoongi says, his voice pitching a little higher. "Don't say that."

"It's true," Jimin shrugs. "I'm a mess, all over the place. Done some fucked up shit. I might be doing better but I can't - can't promise that I won't go back down again." They pause at another crosswalk, standing among a small crowd of people. Jimin feels a little empty, faced with the reality of who he is: someone who's just barely holding himself out of the darkness, someone who will only ever be a burden to those around him.

The stoplight turns red, and people begin to cross. Jimin takes a step only to be yanked back by Yoongi's hand on his waist. He spins Jimin around to face him, holding him there, and he looks upset.

"You have so much good in you, don't you know? You're kind and funny and thoughtful and you can read my mood better than I can. You're talented at so many things, cute and endearing. And you love with no holds barred." He shakes his head. "Just because you're depressed doesn't mean you aren't a person."

Jimin blinks, and he has trouble swallowing. He stares at Yoongi's nose, thinks if he looks him in the eyes he won't be able to stop the tears. Most days, he doesn't feel like a person at all.

"I'm not just giving you a chance," Yoongi murmurs. "I really like you. I'm just - just not that great at showing it. Not like you."

A traitorous tear slips out after all. He dashes it away roughly. "I think you are," he whispers. "I think you show it all the time. I just - just have trouble believing it."

"Neither of us can promise we won't go down again. All we can do is try." Yoongi leans in and presses a soft kiss to Jimin's forehead. "Just don't give up, yeah?"

"Yeah," Jimin says, finally meeting his eyes. He feels like he's going to burst, overwhelmed and in love. "You, too."

"It's cold. Let's go home," Yoongi mumbles. "You wanna spend the night?"

Jimin nods shyly, threading their fingers together. "I'd love that."

 

 

There’s something soft and a little awkward about their night together. Jimin thinks neither of them are prepared for the tender intimacy, or for how vulnerable it makes them feel. But Yoongi’s already seen Jimin at his lowest; this, in turn, is a welcomed vulnerability.

They stop at a convenience store on the way home to buy Jimin a toothbrush. You might as well just leave one at my place , Yoongi tells him, refusing to look him in the eye when he says it. That makes Jimin blush. The first thing Yoongi does when they step into the apartment is place the orchid on a shelf by the window, arranging it with care. He lends Jimin his oversized clothes, and Jimin likes the way they make him feel small. Then they brush their teeth side-by-side at Yoongi’s small sink, their elbows and shoulders bumping, stealing glances at each other through the mirror.

They’ve sat on Yoongi’s bed together to watch TV before, but of course tonight feels different. Tonight, when Yoongi turns on the TV, Jimin dares to rest his head on Yoongi’s shoulder, and Yoongi pulls Jimin’s hand into his lap to fiddle with his fingers.

“Maybe I’ll actually get more sleep because of you,” Yoongi says wryly when Jimin insists that it’s time to go to sleep.

“Good,” Jimin tells him smugly.

He flicks off the lights, and they lie down. Jimin’s in the middle of wondering whether it’s okay to cuddle or not when Yoongi wraps an arm around his waist and tugs him in. He can feel Yoongi’s breath tickling his hair and  the warmth of Yoongi’s chest against his back. He’s sturdy and solid in a way that has Jimin facing the reality that at last, he isn’t alone. That Yoongi didn’t give up on him.

“Goodnight, hyung,” Jimin whispers. He brings one of Yoongi’s hands to his lips and kisses his knuckles.

“Goodnight, Jiminie,” Yoongi returns, and Jimin can feel his voice rumble through his chest.

Jimin closes his eyes and lets himself rest.

 

 

He wakes before Yoongi does.

He’s hyper aware of Yoongi’s lips against his nape and the steady rise and fall of his chest as he breathes. They’ve gotten mixed up during the night, and they’re a tangle of limbs and blankets where Jimin can’t quite tell who starts where. He shifts carefully in Yoongi’s loose hold, and Yoongi’s feet shift against his shins. Yoongi looks pretty when he sleeps, pink lips parted and brow slightly furrowed. His lashes rest long against his skin.

Jimin traces a delicate finger along the line of his nose and the curve of his cheeks, brushes it down his jaw and over his furrowed brow, wishing he could smooth the creases from his skin. Today, maybe Jimin will make breakfast. But for now, he eases back into Yoongi’s embrace and rests his head on the pillow inches from Yoongi’s.

For the first time in a long, long time, Jimin allows himself to believe that he’ll be alright.